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Voters to decide bridge toll hike for transportation infrastructure

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Is it worth paying an extra $3 per commute if it means getting to work quicker? This is essentially the choice Sonoma commuters are faced with as they consider a June ballot measure that would raise Bay Area bridge tolls to pay for transportation projects.

Voters in the nine Bay Area counties will see Regional Measure 3 on the June 5 ballot. If passed, tolls on Bay Area bridges, except the Golden Gate, which is subject to a separate district toll structure, would increase up to $3 by 2025. The measure would raise $4.5 billion to tackle some of the region’s most vexing transportation problems.

The North Bay would stand to receive $1.1 billion, including $120 million to complete the Highway 101 widening project through the Sonoma-Marin Narrows, $100 million to kick start Highway 37 improvements and $40 million to extend SMART to Healdsburg.

“This gives us an opportunity to come up with local dollars to take care of transportation issues,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, who serves on the board of SMART and the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. “This time around, we get to participate and we do get the benefit.”

Two previous bridge toll increase measures did not include Sonoma County voters. Drivers from Sonoma County represent 2 percent of bridge crossings, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Tolls are currently $5 on the seven affected Bay Area bridges — the Bay Bridge, Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, San Mateo Bridge, Dumbarton Bridge, Benicia Bridge, Carquinez Bridge and Antioch Bridge. For comparison, tolls are $7.75, or $6.75 with FasTrack, on the Golden Gate, which is managed by a special district. Bridges and tunnels in the New York City metropolitan area are $10.50 to $17, according to the MTC.

The measure requires a simple majority to pass.

Jake Mackenzie, a Rohnert Park city councilman and the chairman of the MTC, said the projects Sonoma County would be able to complete with the new revenue are worth the added expense for commuters.

“We see this as critically important,” he said. “We understand that there’s an increase in cost, but everything is linked to the problems that will be addressed.”

The ballot measure comes as officials have started to address the backlog of infrastructure projects after years of underfunding. State lawmakers last year passed SB1, California’s first gas tax increase in more than 20 years. Sonoma County officials will learn next month whether they will receive $80 million in SB1 funds to widen Highway 101 through Petaluma.

The SCTA is also this year considering asking voters for an extension of Measure M, the quarter-cent sales tax first passed in 2004 for transportation projects. Rabbitt said revenue from the renewed measure would largely go toward repairing county roads and city streets.

The measure could be on the November ballot, Rabbitt said, but last year’s wildfires and the costly cleanup could force officials to rethink asking voters for additional revenue.

“There is still some angst about whether Measure M should be a priority,” he said. “I totally get it. Personally, I think we need to push forward. We’re going forward as if it will be on the ballot in November, but we haven’t pulled the trigger yet.”

The measure has no public opposition in Sonoma County. Dan Drummond, executive director of the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association, did not return a call seeking comment.

Contact Matt at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.