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 OAKLAND, Calif., Sept. 8 /PRNewswire/ -- What will it take to make a dent in traffic congestion along the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Corridor? A task force of government, business, environmental and public interest groups thinks it has the answer, and has won a $1.5 million federal grant to investigate the possibility of "congestion pricing" -- varying tolls based upon the time of day -- on the Bay Bridge.
 After an initial study phase involving extensive consultation and outreach to citizens, the group will present recommendations by 1995 to the California Legislature, which would have to approve of any changes in current bridge toll rates. More transit services in the Bay Bridge corridor would come along with any change in the toll structure.
 "Bay Bridge congestion during morning and evening commute hours is a critical problem for the region. For the 35,000 drivers caught in peak morning traffic every weekday at the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza, the pricetag is an estimated $70,000 each day -- or $17.5 million per year -- in wasted time. And the peak morning commute period is projected to more than double by 2010. Pricing of bridge travel based upon demand is a feasible, near-term measure to substantially reduce or eliminate the seemingly intractable queue at the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza," said Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) Executive Director Lawrence D. Dahms.
 "We think the Bay Area has the makings of a 'win-win' proposition that can serve as a model for the nation," said Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Division Administrator Roger Borg, who joined Bay Area officials today at the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza to announce the awarding of the grant. "If congestion pricing here in the Bay Area can be shown to reduce traffic delay costs while, at the same time, bringing much-needed improvements in urban air quality and generating revenues for needed transportation improvements, then the role of market-based solutions in meeting the rest of the nation's transportation requirements may be greatly enhanced."
 The program calls for replacing the existing, fixed $1 tolls for westbound trips into San Francisco with variable tolls. Non-carpools would pay a higher toll to cross the bridge during congested morning and evening commute hours, while carpools and vanpools of three or more occupants, as well as buses, would continue to travel across the bridge for free. Ridesharing programs and transit services would be upgraded. Planners will explore the feasibility of lowering tolls below the $1 level during certain non-peak hours, along with the option of permitting trucks to use the Bay Bridge with a reduced toll or free of charge during late night hours. Revenues raised from the higher bridge tolls would be applied toward the expansion of options to driving alone in the Bay Bridge Corridor.
 The $1.5-million FHWA grant will go to Caltrans, which will work in partnership with MTC and a task force of government, business, environmental and public interest groups, to examine the appropriate toll structure and mix of mobility improvements needed to unsnarl Bay Bridge morning and evening commute traffic. After the initial study phase, state legislative approval in 1995 could trigger the award of up to an additional $23.5 million from FHWA to the Bay Area, which would be used largely to augment and improve BART, AC Transit buses, ferries and ridesharing services in the Bay Bridge Corridor. Implementation of a variable toll structure would likely begin in early 1996 and last for at least a year.
 "One of the leading causes of air pollution in the Bay Area is auto emissions. This project, if it goes forward, would give people real alternatives and real incentives to get out of their cars and onto carpools, vanpools or mass transit," said Teresa Lee of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
 "Pricing of transportation closer to its true market cost will go a long way toward encouraging travel choices that reduce congestion, air pollution, automobile accidents and other social costs," stated Deborah Gordon of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "If demand-based pricing works in other sectors of the economy -- such as in the telephone and travel industries -- surely it's worth a try on our gridlocked highway system."
 That notion was echoed by Michael Cameron of the Environmental Defense Fund. "Congestion pricing will reward people for ridesharing and require solo drivers to pay for their contribution to pollution and energy consumption. The long-term environmental benefits could be significant," he said.
 Steve Heminger of the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored organization, likewise expressed support for market-based pricing of bridge travel, and stressed that the Bay Area's proposal will be geared toward offering commuters more travel options. "Government should not be in the business of dictating how people get to work. It's far better to give people a range of options, some of which cost more than others. If people make choices that reduce traffic and smog, they'll save money too," said Heminger.
 The Bay Area's proposal was the only one selected from among 16 submitted nationwide, with funding made available through the landmark federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991.
 MTC and Caltrans will work on the proposal with a task force that includes the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Bay Area Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, the Bay Area Economic Forum, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Santa Clara County Manufacturing Group. Plans also call for formation of additional citizen and technical groups, including freight interests, to examine and offer advice on the congestion pricing project.
 -0- 9/8/93
 /NOTE TO EDITORS: News conference scheduled today at 9:30 a.m. at the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza Administration Building to discuss congestion pricing on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge./
 /CONTACT: Ellen Griffin, 510-464-7847, or Catalina Alvarado 510-464-7783, both of Metropolitan Transportation Commission; Roger Borg of Federal Highway Administration, California Division, 916-551-1280; Zevorah English of Federal Highway Administration, Washington, DC, 202-366-0660; Teresa Lee of Bay Area Air Quality Management District, 415-749-4905; Greg Bayol of Caltrans, 510-286-6169; or Steve Heminger of Bay Area Council, 415-981-6600/

CO: Metropolitan Transportation Commission ST: California IN: TRN SU:

TM -- SF008 -- 9788 09/08/93 12:01 EDT
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Date:Sep 8, 1993

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