Rising from the pages of Marin’s Greenbrae Corridor studies is an accusatory finger, pointing east. It is not Marin traffic causing the massive backups on Highway 101 in the evening, nor is it really our antiquated freeway design. No, it’s East Bay-San Francisco commuters cutting through our fair county. Fix that, perhaps, and we fix our corridor. There are two reasons for these commuters to cut through Marin: it’s faster than 880, and it’s free. We can’t really help 880’s congestion, but perhaps we can address the whole “free” part. If people want to cut through our county, maybe we can at least make them pay for the privilege.
We can do this by charging the Bridge toll in both directions. To keep things even, charge half the current toll both ways, so $2.50 heading south and $2.50 heading north. Now that the Bridge District has gone all-electronic, the impact on traffic would be nominal, and the cost of implementation would certainly be less than a new 101-580 interchange.
This, at least, is the base package. Perhaps bridge tolls could go up (slightly) thanks to the heavier northbound traffic, perhaps $2 south and $3 north, to reduce cut-through traffic a little more. Just a few percentage points off could do wonders.
But there are a few extras that could make the system work a little better.
The first: do the same thing for the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. While it would cost a bit to switch its toll collection to all-electronic tolling, that would save MTC money in the long run, just as it has for the Golden Gate Bridge District.
The second: charge variable toll rates based on traffic congestion, a structure typically called congestion pricing. Perhaps free-flow pricing would be a better term, because what it really does is ease traffic congestion. It gives people a disincentive to drive during the peak time, when the tolls are high and road space is at a premium, and (in Marin's case) a disincentive to cut through the county.
A quick primer is embedded below. Streetfilms has a quick primer here.
Whatever you call it, with two-way tolling the tolls would rise and fall based on morning and evening traffic conditions, rather than just for morning conditions as the current system would allow today. If tolls rise to, say, $6 round trip, they could also be adjusted asymmetrically: $2 in the morning and $4 in the evening. To sweeten the deal, any new funding might go to congestion mitigation, like that 101-580 interchange, better bus service, etc.
While a 101-580 interchange is necessary if Larkspur Landing is ever to become a walkable neighorhood, for the time being we should regulate our traffic congestion using prices, either fixed or variable based on traffic. In doing so, we would give everyone on the road a smoother trip.