California

California Supreme Court dismisses lawsuit challenging 2018 transit finance measure. These Bay Area projects will benefit

The California Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit challenging a 2018 ballot measure designed to raise billions of dollars for transit and freeway projects through toll increases on seven state-owned bridges in the Bay Area.

Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling ends a year-long legal battle that prevented transit agencies from accessing funds raised by regional Measure 3, which Bay Area voters approved by 55% of the vote nearly five years ago.

Although the measure was put to a vote by state legislation signed by the then governor. Jerry Brown, the anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, sued to stop the toll increases. The group argued that the toll increases amounted to a local tax, which required a two-thirds majority under state law because it funds projects that benefit the general public, not just users of the bridges.

Local transportation officials criticized the group’s lawsuit as it reached the state’s highest court, saying it jeopardized already voter-approved funds for many high-profile transportation projects.

“With transportation financing on the decline and the lockdown, today’s ruling could not have come at a more critical time for the Bay Area,” said Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council’s Business Group. “It’s a shame it’s taken so long to fend off this ridiculous legal challenge, but now is the time to use that money to modernize and improve our transit and other transportation systems.”

Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been generated by toll increases that went into effect in 2019 and last year when the bridge toll rose to $7. Tolls will increase by another $1 in 2025. These funds have remained in escrow, out of the reach of BART, Muni and other transit companies with capital projects that will benefit from the $4.45 billion generated by Regional Measure 3.

The measure will help fund several major projects across the Bay Area, including the expansion of the San Francisco Bay Ferry into a Mission Bay terminal near the Chase Center, as well as BART’s ongoing replacement of legacy railcars and expansion into the Downtown San Jose. Caltrain’s $6.5 billion expansion of the Salesforce Transit Center will also benefit, as will efforts to expand Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit service north to Windsor and Healdsburg.

Under the measure’s spending plan, the toll funds will also be used to create more express lanes on Bay Area highways, expand Transbay bus service, and build a direct freeway connection from Highway 101 northbound in Marin County to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge .

The measure does not include working capital for Bay Area transit agencies facing severe financial cliffs, although it could help indirectly, as several agencies such as BART have used other sources of funding to advance projects without RM3 funds.

“We are very pleased with the Supreme Court’s ruling,” said Alfredo Pedroza, a Napa County warden who chairs the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s board of directors. “As we await final procedural orders from the Circuit Court of Appeals, we look forward to moving quickly to free up voter-approved toll funds and use those dollars for long-needed projects to improve mobility and create new jobs throughout the Bay Area.” “

Ricardo Cano is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ByRicardoCano

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