Bay Bridge rainy-day fund runs low, leaving toll-payers on hook

By Michael Cabanatuan : sfchronicle – excerpt

The new Bay Bridge span, beset with construction problems, could cost as much as $270 million to complete.

Three years after it opened, the eastern span of the Bay Bridge has been beset with so many problems that a multimillion-dollar rainy-day fund set aside for unanticipated expenses has been nearly devoured, leaving toll-payers responsible for any additional costs.

In a report sent to the Legislature on Thursday, the three-person committee that oversees the $6.8 billion bridge project said just $67.7 million remains in the contingency fund, far short of the estimated $184 million bridge authorities say they need. The fund was $900 million when it was created in 2005.

The committee said the estimated cost to complete the span — including any remaining repair work — could run as high as $270 million or as low as $100 million. But in any case, the Bay Area Toll Authority will have to pay the bill — with money collected from drivers crossing the Bay Area’s seven state-owned toll bridges.

Toll hikes will not be needed, according to officials with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which operates the authority.

“We’re not going to raise the tolls to pay for this,” said Randy Rentschler, a commission spokesman. “There’s no question about that.”

Instead, cash that the authority has already banked for improvements on the region’s toll bridges and their approaches will cover the costs…(more)