Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bridge-gate: The $10 Million Bay Bridge PR

Another reason why HOV's should not, under any circumstances, pay to use the Oakland Bay Bridge, the proposed I-15 Tolled Express Lanes through Riverside County or any other high occupancy toll lanes statewide.

The new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. An investigative story by the Sacramento Bee shows that the California Department of Transportation might be guilty of wasteful and unnecessary spending of taxpayer transportation dollars. Caltrans officials overseeing construction of the eastern segment of the $6.4 billion San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge approved a contract with a public relations company that was going to cost California taxpayers close to a whopping $10 million in transportation money.

You've read that right: $10 million from taxpayers' pockets to pay for marketing of the eastern half of the newly reconstructed and retrofitted Oakland Bay Bridge which would include producing a book and a video documentary. Does the $6.4 billion earthquake-resistant eastern segment of the Bay Bridge warrant a legacy complete with a book and a video? Clearly, that is up to private authors, historians, the television industry, and other sectors of the free market to decide, not a state transportation department. But the $10 million for PR now becomes a symbol of how wasteful the state can be with our transportation money. To be fair, the Brown administration ordered Caltrans to cancel this contract, but the governor was forced to since the story broke. We all owe a big thanks for the Bee for uncovering what could have been a state-level Watergate in the San Francisco Bay.

The Transit Coalition has seen some of the strangest transportation proposals out there, but we have never seen a $10 million state-funded transportation project PR before. These public scandals have happened before and there are likely others that have yet to be uncovered. We all remember the folks from the State Department of Parks and Recreation from who illegally hid $54 million. The money games are in full swing. And now, both The Transit Coalition and the public have more of a reason to oppose budget-related transit cuts, question proposed fare hikes, and confront ill-advised proposals of high occupancy toll lanes which require HOV's to pay to use.

A vision of HOT Lanes on the I-15.

A conceptual art piece pictured above from A Better Inland Empire shows an officially proposed HOT lane entry point at the I-15 Freeway at Highway 74 in Lake Elsinore looking north. This concept shows what the proposed entry point may look like if it rightfully supported free non-transponder carpooling together with rapid express bus service and supply-and-demand toll rates for solo drivers.

State and Riverside County public officials cite the lack of public funds for construction of these lanes as their reasoning behind their proposals to require carpoolers to pay tolls and/or preregister for transponders in order to use them. Officials in San Diego county have also jumped aboard in their long term plans for the I-5 and I-15 freeways through the countryside, but if the state continues its wasteful spending spree with your transportation dollars, both the Coalition and the public will continue to confront toll mandates for carpoolers along our freeways. Why should any carpool patriot or a private sector transit operator have to work harder everyday and pay tolls to use the high occupancy lanes so that Caltrans can have a $10 million PR? The state agency has some explaining to do.

To our local transportation agencies and the state: You want extra construction money to build multi-modal HOT lanes which support free non-transponder carpooling, better distributed traffic flow, and offers a quick throughfare for rapid express transit buses and private sector coaches and charters? Close the loopholes and cut the waste; strike out the $10 million PR.

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