Skip to comments.Surprise accord settles Bay Bridge impasse
Posted on 06/24/2005 7:45:17 AM PDT by SmithL
SACRAMENTO - The Bay Bridge will get a fancy design after all, but the region's motorists will pay most of the span's $3.7 billion in cost overruns under a legislative deal reached Thursday night.
The accord calls for tolls on all state-owned Bay Area spans to jump from $3 to $4 beginning Jan. 1, 2007, and fund about two-thirds of the bridge's higher costs. The state will kick in $630 million toward the project, which has been saddled with delays and escalating prices since its inception seven years ago.
No further toll increases are planned. Rather, the balance of cost overruns will be covered by refinancing toll debt. That is expected to generate another $800 million.
In addition, any future cost overruns must be funded by bridge tolls. But in exchange for accepting that responsibility, regional transportation officials will receive greater authority over area tolls and get a say in managing the project.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, signed off on the agreement shortly after 6 p.m., according to sources familiar with the talks. It still must be approved by the state Legislature.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, was aware of the deal but had not been briefed on it, said his spokesman Vincent Duffy. Nunez has deferred to Perata in negotiations and is likely to back the agreement, Duffy said.
The deal drew mixed reaction from Bay Area transportation officials and lawmakers, who said they are relieved construction can move forward but had hoped the state would pay a greater share of the bridge's cost.
The project is scheduled to be completed by 2012.
"I think it would be a really good thing, and it's way past time," said Mark DeSaulnier, a Contra Costa County supervisor and member of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. He called the development "good news."
The agreement, should it hold up, would end 10 months of contentious negotiations between the Schwarzenegger administration and Bay Area legislators. At issue was whether to streamline the bridge's design and how to divide the new costs between the area's toll payers and the state.
The Republican governor shocked the region's lawmakers in August when his administration announced that the bridge's price tag, previously anticipated to be $2.9 billion, had nearly doubled. The administration blamed the run-up primarily on the bridge's exotic design -- a self-anchored suspension from a tall tower with sweeping cables that is envisioned as an elegant complement to the world-renowned Golden Gate Bridge.
But Bay Area lawmakers pointed to other factors, including poor management by state transportation officials. The state underestimated construction costs and used far more high-cost private engineers than originally forecast, they charged.
Schwarzenegger commissioned a report by a panel of experts last fall and, despite ambiguous findings, in December recommended dumping the original design for a skyway -- a highway on stilts. That angered area transportation officials and Bay Area advocates who argued a signature span better fit the region's image.
Talks between administration officials and top Democrats went nowhere for months, as the bridge's cost continued to rise and a new controversy erupted over whether welds on the first segment of the span were safe. Transportation officials determined the welds met safety standards, despite allegations from workers that the job had been botched while racing to meet construction deadlines.
Perata and Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, led negotiations with the governor's top staff, and they conceded from the start that higher tolls would be necessary. The only questions were when and how much the tolls would climb.
Schwarzenegger pushed the Bay Area to pay all the overruns, meaning a $5 toll as soon as this year. The region's lawmakers, however, said they wanted the state to chip in more right away, thereby postponing a toll increase until 2009.
Last summer, MTC officials told legislators that a toll hike in 2009 would create $1.9 billion through financing and selling bonds. They said the state would need to contribute $800 million right away to make the financing plan work.
Under Thursday's agreement, MTC's refinancing plan can fly with less state money because higher tolls would kick in sooner. A $1 increase beginning in 2007 and running 30 years could provide $2.1 billion in additional revenue through financing and selling bonds.
The bridge is currently forecast to cost $5.5 billion, with contingencies budgeted at an additional $800 million.
Transportation officials say the self-anchored suspension segment of the project can be bid out and awarded by January, if the deal is passed by June 30.
Art Nicola, a Bay Point resident who said he occasionally drives across the Bay Bridge, applauded legislators for fighting for the more aesthetically pleasing structure.
"Personally, I'd like to see the original suspension span design," he said.
"The Bay Area is a world-class locale and it just doesn't seem right to go on the cheap."
Pick your poison.
Not sure if they have restarted construction yet due to the weld quality issue...
LOVE that tagline!
And to think that if they would have stayed with the original specs (thick wire wrapping around instead of these worthless welds) there wouldn't even be an issue.
I don't know if they restarted, but the welds passed inspection. It would seem that the whole weld issue was being driven by disgruntled unions.
Within two years, they raised tolls from $0.25 to $2.00 - and gave the surplus to the subways, which had been prohibited before.
It's just a variation on the old scam-raise taxes by letting an unaccountable, non-elected body raise fees.
This government is getting so screwed up... It's a wonder they haven't built it to a dead end into Alcatraz after taking it by eminent domain back from the Indians that siezed it in the 1970's for "the good of all!" (barf)
I always assumed that we'd end up with the "pretty" bridge, along with a toll increase. That's fairer than a statewide tax, but I think they should have raised the Bay Bridge toll to $5 and left the rest of the bridges alone.
Okay, I live on a peninsula (if any burglars are reading this thinking they can locate me and break in, I'll make more holes in you than a swiss cheese factory owns) and no one can get in or out unless they cross the bridge.
Several times in our illustrious history, a freighter or tramp steamer or tour boat has knocked the bridge out. In a few instances, the entire bridge has collapsed into the water. (Blub. Blub.)
Now one might consider this is a disaster, as people couldn't get to work, or buy food, or go met his or her honey.
Not so, sir.
Young lads flocked to the water to offer taxi service via various boats for affected and interested citizens who wished to transverse the waters rather than swim. The boys made money, and the citizens got to where they needed.
I'm speaking of incidents in the 19th and early 20th century. In 1950 we got World War II "ducks" to ferry people across, thus placing most entreprenuerial boys on the unemployment line and ruining budding careers.
The other solution was to wait til winter for the water to freeze. Then everyone walked over.
Hope this helps your bridge problem
The Bay Bridge! It runs from Africa to Ferryland!!!
ROFL, that was not politically correct at all.
Shaddup! Yew'll git me busted!!! (snart!)
I know... You just wanna see Yosemite Sam gita spankin!!!
You're gonna be lucky if you escape that rootin' tootin' comment.
What? That one about "Rootin Tootin Boot Skootin Putin?"
ROFL, you win!