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Region & State

Governor Says Bay Area Residents Should Pay Overruns of Bridge Project

He calls for a November ballot measure to let voters decide how to settle the repair bill.

August 17, 2004|Jean-Paul Renaud | Times Staff Writer

With the effort to rebuild the Bay Bridge now almost $5 billion over budget, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday said Bay Area residents should cover the cost overruns and called for a November ballot measure in which voters would decide how to do it.

"Gov. Schwarzenegger is not going to take important transportation money from all over the state, including Southern California, to pay for the cost overruns of the Bay Bridge," said Vince Sollitto, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger.

Officials announced Monday their intent to send a bill that would include the call for a November vote as well as an independent audit to examine the cost overruns. If the bill is approved, Bay Area voters will be asked whether the $1 toll hike they voted for in March should be used to specifically fund the Bay Bridge instead of other area projects.

"Voters did not have full information about the Bay Bridge cost overruns when they were asked to raise the tolls to pay for new projects," Sollitto said. "The governor wants to make the people know the facts and give them the option to spend that new toll money to complete the Bay Bridge that they chose."

The proposal has already divided legislators into a North-South dispute -- two weeks before their session ends.

Bay Area legislators say the proposal is an unfair attempt to shift responsibility of the massive construction project to local taxpayers.

"The Bay Bridge is a state bridge," said Sen. Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch). "I think this is extremely upsetting for all of us, for the users of the bridge. It's always been assumed that the state would pick up the majority share."

Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) immediately dismissed the governor's plan as "goofy" and said it's too late in the session to consider it.

"It just would have been nice if they had discussed this with everybody involved," Burton said. "I don't think they could expect us to [pass it] in a short time frame ... "

Legislators in Southern California hailed the plan as a way to rebuild the bridge without jeopardizing transportation projects elsewhere in the state.

"I think that the bridge has to be retrofitted, and this is the way to do it," said Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach), chairwoman of the Assembly Transportation Committee.

The eastern portion of the bridge, which connects Oakland to Yerba Buena Island, was damaged during the 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieto earthquake in 1989. Bay Area officials saw an opportunity to rebuild a more architecturally dramatic span that would rival even the art deco-style Golden Gate Bridge.

But some officials now blame that design for the cost overruns, which have ballooned from $2.6 billion in 1997 to $7.4 billion today.

Also, steel prices have jumped dramatically in recent years.

The governor's proposal would also shift authority for construction of the bridge from the California Department of Transportation to the Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

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Times staff writer Robert Salladay contributed to this report.

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