California Supreme Court rejects lawsuit against 2018 public transportation funding measure. These Bay Area projects will benefit

The California Supreme Court has thrown out a lawsuit challenging a 2018 ballot measure that aimed to raise billions of dollars for highway and transit projects through toll increases on seven Bay Area state bridges.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on Wednesday ends a year-long legal dispute that prevented transit agencies from accessing funds raised through Regional Measure 3, which Bay Area voters approved nearly five years ago. with 55% of the votes.

Although the measure was put on the ballot through state legislation signed by the then-governor. Jerry Brown, the anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sued to stop the toll increases. The group argued that the toll increases amounted to a local tax that required a two-thirds vote under state law because it funds projects that would benefit the general public, not just bridge users.

Local transit officials criticized the group’s lawsuit as it reached the state supreme court, saying it jeopardized funding already approved by voters for many high-profile transit projects.

“With transportation funding on the decline and endangered, today’s ruling could not have come at a more critical time for the Bay Area,” said Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council business group. of the Bay. “It’s a shame it took so long to beat this ridiculous legal challenge, but now is the time to start putting this money to work to upgrade and improve our transit and other transportation systems.”

Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been generated through toll increases that took effect in 2019 and last year, when bridge tolls went up to $7. Tolls will increase another $1 in 2025. Those funds have remained in an escrow account, out of the reach of BART, Muni and other transit agencies with capital projects that will benefit from the $4.45 billion generated by Regional Measure 3.

The measure will help fund several major projects in the Bay Area, including the expansion of the San Francisco Bay Ferry to a Mission Bay terminal near Chase Center, as well as BART’s continued replacement of its aging train cars. and its expansion to downtown San José. Caltrain’s $6.5 billion extension to the Salesforce Transit Center will also benefit, as will an effort to expand Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit service north to Windsor and Healdsburg.

Toll funds will also go toward creating more express lanes on Bay Area freeways, increasing transbay bus service, and building a direct freeway connector from the northbound 101 Freeway in Marin County to the Richmond Bridge. -San Rafael, according to the spending plan of the measure.

The measure does not include operating funds for Bay Area transit agencies facing serious financial cliffs, although it could help indirectly because several agencies, such as BART, used other funding sources to advance projects in the absence of RM3 funds.

“We are very pleased with the Supreme Court’s ruling,” said Alfredo Pedroza, a Napa County supervisor who chairs the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. “While we await final procedural orders from the Court of Appeals, we hope to move quickly to unlock voter-approved toll funds and put those dollars to work on long-needed projects to improve mobility and create new jobs throughout the Bay Area. .”

Ricardo Cano is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ByRicardoCano