Every once in a while, a Coastsider will propose adding a toll to Highway 92 to keep visitor traffic at bay. Transportation experts say it’s not a bad idea, as “congestion pricing” is an increasingly popular way to deter solo drivers from busy areas during peak times. It’s not likely, either.
While tolls aren’t new to the Bay Area, they’ve never been tested on the Coastside, and no local agencies are moving to charge drivers as they come over the hill.
John Goodwin is the assistant director of communications for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which operates Fastrak across the Bay Area. He said a toll over Highway 92 is not likely to happen anytime soon.
“As a non-freeway route, tolling that would be very unconventional,” Goodwin said.
It’s because the road is just one lane in either direction. Goodwin said that makes it an unlikely candidate for a toll because, historically, toll projects for smaller roads lack sufficient political support.
Instituting an all-lane toll would also require legislative action.
Goodwin said it’s not completely out of the question. He explained that MTC is in the process of developing its long-term regional transportation plan, which will get revised in 2025, 2029 and 2033. The plan is under a mandate from the state to create a path toward reducing per capita greenhouse gas emissions by 19 percent from 2015 numbers. That has prompted all-lane tolling elsewhere in the area, notably on the other side of Highway 92 toward Hayward.
“It could move into the planning sphere in the next 15 years,” Goodwin said. “But even still, it's a long leap from the planning sphere to the policy sphere.”
Goodwin said that, typically, for a toll to be created, it has to be supported at the local level first, through the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, the California Coastal Commission and the MTC before going to Caltrans — which owns the road — for approval. Goodwin said it’s hard to estimate the cost of a tolling project because they vary so widely in size and scope.
As for where tolling revenue could go, Goodwin said in this case it could be determined by the county and reinvested in the local community, perhaps toward future transportation projects to further mitigate traffic.
Most examples of successful toll programs come from abroad, from big cities like Singapore and London trying to curb downtown traffic. That’s the model the San Francisco County Transportation Authority is taking with its current push to explore downtown congestion pricing.
But there aren’t many examples of tolls on single-lane highways or in coastal areas. Goodwin said the closest parallel in the Bay Area might be the toll on the single-lane Antioch Bridge over the San Joaquin River. Another similar case is the 17-mile drive that charges $10.50 per vehicle traveling along the Carmel coastline. However, it’s a private, not state, road. Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have allowed a $10 weekend toll on the famous Lombard Street on the grounds of equity.
In fact, equity is a concern most traffic experts share when it comes to toll roads. Half Moon Bay Public Works Director John Doughty said he doesn’t see a path toward tolling 92 without widening it first, which would be an even bigger undertaking. And any project that limits access to the coast would have to get approval from the California Coastal Commission, which would analyze the project’s impacts on coastal access. Goodwin said MTC is working now to roll out a pilot program for toll discounts, but it’s still in development.
“Without having a lane in which you don't have to pay, that will be seen as a social justice issue,” Doughty said.