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So What Does It Cost To Use a Toll Bridge Elsewhere?

Bay Crossings Staff Report

Bay Crossings performed an assessment of all Interstate Highway toll bridges to find out what others are paying to cross. As a result, we came up with two measurements: the average toll cost and the average toll cost per mile. And since anyone can lie with statistics, we offer our methodology up front.

Our bridge population was selected from the Federal Highway Administration list of Interstate Highway Toll bridges. It was then further refined to take only those toll bridges the government deemed to be in urban areas (and thus subject to commute traffic). This eliminates the incredibly cheap ($2) and 11-mile long Sunshine Skyway connecting St. Petersburg, FL to rural lower Tampa Bay. The expensive ($14) Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel also did not make the list, as it is rural and a state route. While some will be unhappy, the Golden Gate Bridge also failed, as it is a state route (but in one analysis we used it anyway).

State routes were eliminated as many contain short, lower-priced toll bridges in urban areas (such as Peoria, IL) that just donít compare well to the Bay Area. International bridges to Canada were also eliminated, even if in urban areas, due to the reduced commuter usage. Several other toll bridges were dropped because the toll paid includes the use of a toll highway and separating the bridge portion is impracticable.

This leaves us with a population of fifteen toll bridges in urban areas, four of which are in the Bay Area. However, selecting the toll rate to use for each bridge can also affect the outcome. For example, the cash price for the George Washington Bridge in New York City is $6, but the E-Zpass (Mark IV) rate is $5. Thus, the assumption is that most commuters will use the $5 toll. The Verrazano Narrows Bridge has a plethora of discounts that brings it down from $11 to $3.50 for registered Staten Islanders with the E-Zpass, so $3.50 is used.

Knowing the methodology can help you determine if the results provide a meaningful analysis of what others are paying for toll bridges. Our first analysis finds a total population of fifteen bridges, 43.6 bridge miles (which includes approaches) with an average charge per mile of $1.30 over 2.73 average bridge miles, creating an average bridge toll of $3.53. Note that the average charge is far higher than all the Bay Area bridges except the Golden Gate.

The second way to look at it is to take the average charge per mile and the federally assigned miles of bridge and approaches to calculate the cost for Bay Area bridges if the toll were calculated by the average toll cost per mile. The results for the Bay Area bridges are: Carquinez: $2.07; Martinez: $2.85; Bay Bridge: $7.90; and Richmond: $6.09.

For everyone who howled that the Golden Gate Bridge should be in the averages, adding it in raises the average toll to $3.62 and creates the following toll cost per mile result: Carquinez: $2.18; Martinez: $2.99; Bay Bridge: $8.30; and Richmond: $6.39.

Logically, however, this should be a study of what OTHER people are paying, so we should drop all Bay Area bridges (and the Golden Gate) and re-figure the average. Here is that result: the average toll cost rises to $4.04 and the cost per mile rises to $1.67. Thus, the result: Carquinez: $2.68; Martinez: $3.68; Bay Bridge: $10.20; and Richmond: $7.86.

Now those of you with lightening quick minds will note that our numbers donít seem to multiply correctly. For example, $1.67 (the average toll cost per mile that others pay) times the 6.1 miles of the Bay Bridge is actually $10.19, not $10.20 as shown. All true, but the actual average toll cost is $1.67241379 and when that is multiplied by the 6.1 bridge miles, the result is $10.20172414. For convenience, we have rounded to pennies and ignored printing fractions of a cent, although they are in the calculations.

Thus, we can conclude that our use of most Bay Area bridges is far cheaper than the national average and definitely way less than what other people pay. With the notable exception of the Carquinez Bridge, adding a $1 toll will still leave the other three bridges costing commuters far less than their brethren elsewhere in the country.