Guest Commentary: Tuesday Stealth Hearing on Tolls for I-80

$10+  tolls – but Tahoe Groups go free!

By Alan Hirsch

Policies that will decide how high the tolls will be on new I-80 lanes will be discussed at a little publicized hearing Tuesday April 9 at 5:30 at the West Sacramento Public Library.  Zoom will be available. This may be the first—and maybe last—chance for most members to make oral public comments, as future toll agency meetings will be held during the day in DT Sacramento SACOG offices, where Zoom-in comments are not allowed.

Staff for this new agency members have also shared they believe, under the proposed policies, they expect tolls on I-80 for Davis commuters may be $10 each way at congestion times—or even more. But 3 in a car will go toll free—a policy that favors Tahoe recreational travelers over commuters.

The hearing by the California Transportation Commission (CTC) will take input on setting up a new agency and making policies for the proposed 17 miles of new toll lane that run from I-80 in Dixon to both I-80 and I-50 Sacramento River Bridges. The agency will decide how tolls are set, who gets discounted tolls, and how the toll revenue will be used. The Agency sponsors are SACOG and Yolo Transportation District. YoloTD is chaired by Davis Mayor Josh Chapman who is also Davis’s representative on SACOG.

The new agency is called CARTA, Capitol Area Regional Tolling Agency. This agency, if approved by CTC, will meet during the day at the downtown Sacramento office of SACOG.  SACOG does not offer either voice or email public comment or Zoom in public comments. This means in the future only in-person public comments will be taken unless CTC decides otherwise.

The proposed plan is dynamically raising (and lowering) the toll on the new lane to in effect “auction off capacity to the highest bidding driver.”  This means tolls will be set high enough to limit which drivers use the lane, so these drivers who are willing and able to pay the toll are never inconvenienced by congestion. Toll Rates will change over the course of the day based on congestion, as usually the freeway has excess capacity.

However, at peak at times when the lanes are most needed the tolls will be quite high. YoloTD director Autumn Bernstein has stated in a KDRT interview that she expected the toll on these 17 miles of lanes to be $1 a mile, which means at peak congestion about $10 for a one-way Davis to Sac commute. Kathleen Hanley, principal planner for the new agency, has also affirmed this in a presentation that the toll will be between 50 cents and $4 a mile. She suggested Davis commuters might have to pay $40 to use the lane in a commute to Sacramento sometimes.

Information on Toll Agency Hearing

The public hearing will take place on Tuesday, April 9 at 5:30 pm at the West Sacramento public library at 1212 Merkley Street near city hall.  It was not well publicized: No press release was given to the Davis Enterprise according to Sebastian Ornate the editor. There has been no posting on social media. Hearing is at 5:30 so Davis residents coming home on I-80 may find it difficult to Zoom in or attend.  For more information on the actual proposal, go to this webpage and use the “Hearing” drop down.

The event flier does not sa  they want written public comments, or give a deadline for receipt of input, but they should be sent to:

The official meeting agenda and instructions can be  viewed here.

Below are some observations you might want to share in your comments.

  1. Governing Practices May Limit Public Input on Toll Setting

The new Capital Area Regional Tolling Agency, CARTA will be staffed and run out of SACOG, so it looks like the tolling board will hold meetings at their Sacramento offices even though the only toll lanes it will manage for the foreseeable future are in Yolo County.  SACOG meeting are during the day and do not take Zoom or phone message public comments—you must go in person to comment. Should CTC guarantee that the new agency for Yolo80 lanes be required to meet in Yolo County, at more convenient times, and provide a way for remote public comments by the public?

  1. Three Free Tolling Policy Favors Tahoe Travel

Part of the tolling plan, per the YoloTD Board, is to let three-plus carpool use of the lane toll free. This would seem to favor Tahoe recreational travelers over local commuters and workers. It would fit a larger regional plan to allow 3-free on planned future extension of I-80 toll lanes all the way to Roseville, thus optimizing Tahoe travel.  The transportation reason for this is unclear, as according to Caltrans figures offering discounts for carpool uses would encourage less than 3% more people to carpool. (I-80 CMCP  table 5.3 pg. 97) And if there are three adults in the car, the tolls per person are already cut by 2/3.  However, with the 3-Free policy this would cut the toll by 60%, cut the revenue available to fund transit alternative in Yolo County and cut fare/improve capitol corridor rail service.  It currently costs $9 one-way to take the train from Davis to Sacramento—or $27 for a party of three adults. Aren’t there already enough incentives to carpool? And consider induced demand; do we want to encourage more Tahoe travel?

  1. Three-Free Policy Drives Up Tolls for Other Users

The managed lanes work by “auctioning off” the excess capacity in the toll lane to the highest bidder. If the toll lane is partly or largely filled by Three-Free users then there is less capacity to be auctioned off to one- or two-person cars, thus driving up the toll they pay.  This would seem to increase social equity issues of toll lanes.

  1. Unfunded Social Equity Promises

It has been noted that everyone pays the same gas taxes that are funding building these new lanes, but we are auctioning off their use in a way that favors the rich—who already have 2-5 times the carbon footprint as the poor. This has raised concerns about both climate justice and social equity.

In response to public concerns about social equity of toll lanes staff members has made vague promises of a future having a “social equity” program. But what this means has not been defined anywhere, much less have any guarantee funding identified other than a promise toll revenue will be used.

This promise of the funding of social equity is particularly problematic as, according CEQA law mitigation of environmental impacts, i.e. GHG/VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) mitigation must be funded before social equity. Per the DEIR (page 2-143-2-148) the plan is to fund mitigation of 30% of the increased VMT, a 57mil miles/year increase in driving created by the widening project.  Again, the plan and costs here are vague. But we can ballpark estimate the cost of mitigation plan to reducing driving by 57mil miles/year by shifting the traveler to other modes: the YoloBus subsidy is over $1 per passenger-mile, so an estimate of the mitigation program for 57mil mile/year cost is likely over $57mil/year, Yet the on-going toll revenue from the toll lane is estimated to be only $9.6mil/year per.  Thus, there seems to be insufficient money to fund the promised mitigation efforts, much less a social equity program. Should not the CTC ask for honest assessment of what CARTA can accomplish in its agency application?

  1. Social Equity is regional, not Yolo County issue.

The social equity program discussed by YoloTD seem to only consider help for those in Yolo County, even though over 90% of drivers this section are from Solano, Sacramento and places other than Yolo.  Should not CTC ask that any social equity program be addressed to all users, not Yolo County?

  1. Three-Free Discount Not Enforceable

One of the issues with HOV lanes in general, and especially on the Three-Free user of the lane, is the high level of illegal use. On HOV2+ lanes on highway 99 between Elk Grove and Sacramento a recent study showed as many as 46% of users of that lane were illegal single occupancy vehicles. This for 2+ riders where lack of a second passenger in front seat can be determined visually. Determining if there are 3 in a car is nearly impossibly visually— and even more difficult given it is legal to 100% black out back and back-side windows. Advocates for the Three-Free program promise some future technology to address but have no specific examples even 30 years after the first HOV 2+ lane was opened.

YoloTD Bernstein has in fact acknowledged in a KDRT interview the lack of enforceability, stating claims the 3+ ride free discount will be on the “honor system.” CTC should scrutinize the 3+ program viability for this and the many reasons listed here.

  1. Three-Free Policy Threatens Mitigation Promise Made in I-80 EIR.

It is notable that the $9.6mil toll revenue estimate for the lane assumes only a 10% violation rate. This number is not based on not actual data, given violation rates in HOV 2+ are much higher.

Comparing “Three Free” vs “Everyone Pays” revenue forecast (DEIR alternative 5 vs 4) the Three-Free policy cuts net toll revenue by 60%.  ($9.6M/year vs $23.6m/year). (YoloTD Board meeting 12/11/23 slides 18-20)

Who is accountable to pay for mitigation program and a social equity program promise by YoloTD and Caltrain in the EIR?  How will a new separate tolling authority become accountable to maximize revenue to fund the promises?

Table 5.3 from I-80 full corridor plan (2022 I-80 CMCP pg 97 ) showing how adding a new lane with different tolling/HOV policies has no effective vehicle occupancy-i.e. car pooling. Compare scenario HOT3+ being proposed for Yolo80 to “base line” and existing to see offering “toll free use of the lane” as a car pool incentive does not affect travel behavior. Segments 6 & 7 are Yolo80 but this is true of all segments.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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1 Comment

  1. Alan Hirsch

    i made an error in this. Why Verbal comments are only allowed- if you come to their meeting But Sacog of course allows email comments but they are not shared with public or make part of a visible public records and commentor names are not noted in any meeting.  And if a picture is worth 1000 words, while staff and agencies and board members  can show visual, this is not allow for public commentators.

    Board member don’t have to show up at meeting to participate though.

    Sacog also will also read your email if it send in time and less 250 word- ~100 seconds.

     

    General public comments happen at end of meeting, so expect to wait a while.

     

     

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