California toll lane bill dies; other tolling efforts advance

| 8/14/2008

The California Senate soundly defeated a bill that was intended to make it easier to open toll roads in the state. Still, two more bills of note that address tolling are on the move.

Lawmakers voted 24-11 to kill the bill – AB3021 – that would have allowed local transportation agencies to build toll lanes. The Assembly had previously approved the “public-public partnership” bill on a 47-31 vote.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, the measure called for the creation of the California Transportation Financing Authority. The seven-member board would have assisted transportation agencies in obtaining financing – primarily issuing bonds – to use tolls to pay for road work.

Legislative approval no longer would have been needed on a road-by-road basis. Local agencies would have been given authority to charge tolls. The measure sought to mandate that tolled highways must have the option of toll-free lanes for use in the same corridor.

Another provision in the bill allowed for congestion pricing. It would have allowed for toll rates to change depending on the time of day and traffic conditions. The bill also called for allowing personal vehicles with one occupant to access carpool lanes for a fee.

Critics said they wanted nothing to do with possibly being forced to pay to drive in lanes that now are free. Others were concerned about congestion that would result on alternate, free roads.

Supporters acknowledged that the legislation isn’t the “silver bullet” that would solve all of the state’s transportation problems, but it would be a useful tool.

Another bill awaiting a Senate floor vote would authorize the Riverside County Transportation Commission to operate two high-occupancy toll lanes, or HOT lanes, in both directions of Interstate 15. It would include congestion pricing.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore, the measure – AB1954 – would encompass the roadway stretching from the San Bernardino County border to state Route 74.

Jeffries said the HOT lanes would offer an alternative to drivers willing to pay the fee as well as provide an incentive for carpooling by offering a free or “steeply discounted rate.”

If the bill clears the Senate, it would move back to the Assembly for final approval before heading to the governor’s desk.

The Assembly approved one more bill – SB1486 – that would establish the Otay Mesa East Toll Authority. Sponsored by Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, the measure would give the authority authorization to issue bonds and collect tolls to build state Route 11 and a new port of entry in San Diego County.

It now heads back to Senate for approval of changes before moving to Schwarzenegger’s desk.

To view other legislative activities of interest for California in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor