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Senate Votes to Keep Toll on Bay Bridge

Times Staff Writer

After the construction debt is paid off next year, most of the $7.5 million in anticipated annual revenue from the Coronado Bridge toll would have to be spent on road improvements in Coronado, under a bill adopted 36-0 by the Senate on Thursday.

But state Sen. Jim Ellis (R-San Diego), who wrote the bill, said it is likely to be amended substantially if the Legislature extends transportation officials’ authority to continue collecting tolls.

Ellis’ bill--which would permit continued toll collections only for bridge-approach road improvements in Coronado and the upkeep and operation of the 11,000-foot bridge--is one of three introduced since a Department of Transportation financial projection showed that the bridge’s $50-million construction bill will be retired next year, 17 years ahead of schedule.

Rival measures by Assemblywomen Sunny Mojonnier (R-Encinitas) and Lucy Killea (D-San Diego) have been languishing in an Assembly committee awaiting the report of a task force set up in San Diego County last year to determine whether the toll should continue, and how the revenue should be spent.

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While the task force has not released its final report, the panel has agreed that the toll should be continued and that the money should pay for:

- Maintenance, operation and future rehabilitation of the bridge.

- A feasibility study regarding a one-mile tunnel from the foot of the bridge in Coronado to the North Island Naval Air Station. Construction of the proposed tunnel, estimated to cost $50 million to $70 million, is not included, at least not specifically, in the recommendations.

- To “mitigate bridge-related traffic” problems and for transportation improvements along “bridge-approach corridors.” Mojonnier aide Chris Heiserman said that that general language could include the Coronado tunnel, a proposed ferry crossing from North Island or, stretching it a bit, rail transit extensions.

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The task force also recommended that it be kept intact to study toll charges, among other things. And the panel questioned whether Caltrans should continue to operate the bridge, or whether that should be taken over by a local authority.

Although there was considerable discussion regarding lowering the $1.20 toll, the highest among nine state-run toll bridges, there will be no recommendation on what the toll should be.

Because she carried the legislation last year that created the task force, Mojonnier said Thursday she will soon be introducing amendments to her bill paralleling the task force’s recommendations.

Killea, whose bill would make toll revenue available for transportation projects throughout the region, did not totally endorse the recommendations. But she said she feels they can be guidelines for a compromise among San Diego legislators.

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Ellis, who had not seen the recommendations, said, however, that legislators should not depend entirely on recommendations of the task force, which included San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock and other local officials.

“Maybe, we’ll have some different ideas,” Ellis said after the Senate vote.

Ellis, who characterized the toll as a “user tax” that is close to achieving its original purpose, said elimination of the toll should also be considered.


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