Thursday, March 10, 2011

Will Tom Philp use the Bay Bridge - Delta Conveyance analogy for financing conveyance?

Tom Philp, executive strategist for the Metropolitan Water District, compares the Bay Bridge replacement to Delta Conveyance when discussing the sizing of Delta conveyance.  I think it is a much more interesting and relevant analogy for the issue of finance, but I doubt we will see the Bay Bridge toll analogy from MWD when it comes to finance.

First, here is information on Bay Area Bridget tolls from the Bay Area Toll Authority.   
In fiscal year 2009-10, approximately 123 million vehicles crossed the seven state-owned toll bridges in the Bay Area, generating approximately $466 million in total toll revenues — including $130 million in base toll revenues, $112 million in Regional Measure 2 revenues and $224 million in seismic retrofit surcharge revenues.

The base toll revenues are used first to cover the ongoing operations, toll facilities maintenance and administration of the bridges. Remaining toll revenues fund debt service on Regional Measure 1 project financing and various transit and traffic-relieving capital projects that serve the bridge corridors.

Regional Measure 2 funds are used to fund the Regional Measure 2 projects.  (blogger note: Measure 2 projects are almost all transit subsidies)

The seismic surcharge toll revenues are used to fund a multibillion-dollar seismic retrofit program to strengthen and reinforce bridge structures and roadways on all of the seven state-owned Bay Area bridges, including replacing the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

It looks like at least 25% of the bridge toll revenues go to subsidize non-bridge transit, and the bridge tolls also cover 100% of the construction, maintenance of the bridges and their seismic retrofits.

Motorists clearly value the services of the bridge enough to fully pay it's cost + a whole bunch of congestion and pollution reducing mitigation projects (it looks like about 50 cents for every $1 they spend on the bridges).  Compare that to Delta conveyance where there are serious questions as to whether the water project customers are willing to pay the construction and operations costs of Delta conveyance, let alone mitigation.

Since Philp is interested in sizing, it is worth noting that the toll revenue is sufficient to pay for a bridge with even more lanes, yet they decided it was better to pay for fewer lanes and subsidize transit.  If we were to think about sizing/finance of Delta conveyance similar to the Bay Bridge we would be talking about charging MWD's customers enough to pay for 2 tunnels; but only build one tunnel and use the rest of the money to subsidize urban water conservation, water recycling plants, storm water capture, etc. 

Here is Philp's analogy on sizing projects (in fairness, he admits it isn't the best analogy, but for other reasons).
When Caltrans decided that the eastern span of the Bay Bridge needed replacing because of earthquake concerns, there was no debate about how big to build it. The old bridge was five lanes. The new bridge will be five lanes. There was no discussion about intentionally constricting it to, say, promote carpools or public transit or to save on construction costs. Size/capacity was never an issue.
The facts on Bay Bridge finance seem to show that Philp is wrong.  They could have made the bridge bigger, but they didn't and are using bridge tolls to promote public transit.

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