The Bay Area Toll Authority this week began public hearings on proposed toll increases on seven state-owned toll bridges in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The proposed increases would take effect July 1, 2010, and raise $160 million in annual revenue.

“The chief reason the additional revenue is needed is to finance the estimated $750 million cost of necessary seismic retrofit projects on the Antioch and Dumbarton bridges,” the agency said in a release announcing the hearings. “Other factors include a slow but steady decline in toll-paying traffic on the state-owned bridges during each of the past five years, increasing operational expenses, and rising debt (due in part to the upheaval in the municipal bonds markets over the past two years).”

The authority was an active user of variable-rate debt before the financial crisis, and it has faced increased costs for liquidity and swap termination fees on variable-rate debt it refinanced with fixed-rate bonds.

The authority is considering three options for raising tolls, including one that would introduce peak-hour congestion pricing on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for the first time. The authority said preliminary analysis showed congestion pricing could reduce morning peak delay on the Bay Bridge by 15% to 30%.

BATA’s board will consider the toll increase proposals in January.

The authority is spending $6.3 billion to replace the 2.2-mile eastern span of the Bay Bridge, which was built in 1936 and badly damaged in the Loma Prieta Earthquake 20 years ago.

The bridge reopened Monday after a six-day closure that followed the failure of a recently repaired eyebar. The California Department of Transportation, which is replacing the bridge, said the repairs are temporary and will have to be replaced with a more permanent fix at a later time.

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