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Singing Those Golden Gate Blues : Bridges: A plan to raise the toll on the span from $2 to $3 draws protests from motorists. The policies of the board that governs it are also questioned.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Listen carefully to the version of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” blasting from Susan Deluxe’s car stereo as she pulls her convertible up to a toll booth on the Golden Gate Bridge every morning.

This one is called “I Got Ripped Off on My Way to San Francisco.” It was composed by Deluxe and recorded by a friend to protest a proposed bridge toll hike from $2 to $3.

“The loveliness of Marin seems somehow sadly gay,” a man croons, slightly off-key. “The friends who once drove over just can’t afford to pay.”

Already the most expensive toll bridge in the West, the Golden Gate could cost motorists even more starting July 1 when the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District is expected to increase tolls for the second time in two years. Still, San Francisco’s landmark will be cheaper to cross than some toll bridges in New York.

Deluxe, who peddles designer doormats from her Marin County home, belongs to a growing group of commuters fighting the toll hike. The increased fee not only will add $500 to her $1,000-a-year toll bill, she says, but will deter her and others from doing business across the bay.

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“People here are getting ripped off,” she said. “This was supposed to be the gateway to Northern California, but now it is becoming another Berlin Wall.”

In the fight to freeze the tolls, Deluxe’s point of view is represented by the Marin United Taxpayers Assn., an organization whose members last week staged a noisy protest during a public meeting with the Board of Directors.

“I was a one-man band for a while,” said Gene Prat, chairman of the association’s transportation committee. “But now I’ve got an army behind me.”

Marin County voters in 1988 passed an initiative advising against any additional toll hikes until an elected bridge board could replace the executive body. Although the measure was approved by a 72% vote, Prat said, the old board is still in place--and a toll increase is under consideration.

The Golden Gate Bridge was opened to traffic in 1937 and carries an average of 120,000 vehicles across a 1.7-mile span between San Francisco and Marin County. Among suspension bridges, only the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York and the Humber Bridge in England are longer. In 1987, the Golden Gate was declared a National Historic Monument by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The bridge’s district board, which raises its revenues exclusively through tolls and transit fares, insists that its system is fair and that more money is urgently needed to earthquake-proof the span and support growing mass transit costs.

Current estimates for a five-year retrofitting project are $125 million. The district also must cope with a $14-million deficit and upgrade the bus and ferry services it operates.

“We live and die by our tolls,” said the bridge’s general manager, Carney Campion. “They are our guts and heart. Either we raise our tolls or we dismantle our transit system.”

Not everyone outside the district board is unhappy with higher tolls. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, a government agency that monitors regional air pollution, argues that higher costs will remove cars from clogged roads and force commuters to use mass transit.

“In order to attain clean air standards, it is essential to discourage the use of single-occupancy vehicles,” said Joan Dracott, a spokeswoman for the district.

Until the toll is raised, Deluxe vows to keep playing the tape with her remade version of the famous Tony Bennett song to toll booth operators.

“They all know me at the toll booths already,” she boasted.

BRIDGE FARES

Here are some toll rates for a round-trip in a passenger car: Triborough Bridge, N.Y.: $5 Verrazano Narrows Bridge, N.Y.: $5 George Washington Bridge, N.J./N.Y.: $4 Bayonne Bridge, N.J./N.Y.: $4 Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco: $3* Sunshine Skyway, Tampa, Fla.: $2 San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge: $1 San Diego-Coronado Bridge: $1 *proposed

SOURCE: International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Assn.


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