Commuters may have to pay to use North Bay highways 101, 37, 12 under Bay Area plan

Toll roads may be more common for San Francisco Bay Area commuters in the coming years — but not at the speed one might think.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission sent a letter to the Bay Area’s county transportation agencies in early August to help with funding on projects that alleviate congestion on the highways.

The primary option involves express lanes that require tolls to be paid if motorists are not in a carpool or public transit. In the North Bay, U.S. Highway 101, along with State Routes 12 and 37, were singled out as possible toll targets.

“Most corridors are not assumed for all-lane tolling until year 2035,” MTC Planning Director Matt Maloney wrote in the email.

A study to review proposals may be released in 2022 or 2023.

“The study would look at the efficacy and feasibility of different pricing strategies (and) address implementation challenges including traffic diversion,” Maloney wrote.

The letter was designed to initiate the discussion of Plan Bay Area 2050 “to meet the state targets for greenhouse gas reductions,” MTC spokesman John Goodwin told the Business Journal. “There’s a lot less than meets the eye here”

Goodwin stressed the correspondence highlighted a transportation modeling blueprint that represents “only a planning exercise” at best.

Still, the state has multiple projects on tap that need funding, especially given the impact of California Senate Bill 743 on transportation budgets.

SB 743 was signed in 2013 with the intent to “more appropriately balance the needs of congestion management with statewide goals,” Caltrans noted on its website.

Matt Rocco, who’s part of the traffic operations team, explained that tolls give motorists incentive to use other types of transportation.

“Along with other traffic management options, including smart land use and local development planning, investing in transit, regional rail, and walking and bicycling paths, toll roads may help to minimize traffic impacts on the Bay Area,” Rocco said.

“When implemented, traffic congestion shall not be considered a significant impact on the environment within California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) transportation analysis.”

The assessment translates into more necessary funding to accomplish these goals.

The bill introduced by California Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, requires the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research to identify new metrics for identifying and mitigating transportation impacts within CEQA.

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