California Advances Public Toll Financing Option for Transportation Projects

California will soon have a new authority that can authorize California transportation agencies to toll transportation facilities, eliminating the need for legislative approval for each tolling project. 

AB 798, a bill sponsored by state treasurer Bill Lockyer and recently signed by Governor Schwarzenegger, creates a new state level agency, the California Transportation Finance Authority, with the limited purpose of issuing revenue bonds for new capacity or improvements to the state transportation system at the request of a public sector project sponsor. Project sponsors include the state department of transportation (Caltrans) as well as regional or county transportation agencies. Eligible projects include a wide range of transportation improvements, including highways, streets, rail bus or related facilities owned and operated by Caltrans or other project sponsors. The Authority is governed by a seven member board chaired by the State Treasurer, and includes local agency representatives appointed by the State Legislature.

In addition to establishing a statewide conduit revenue bond issuer, the new law makes further advances in the use of pricing to pay for needed transportation improvements. 

With passage of AB 798, highway projects that meet the normal planning and environmental review requirements would be eligible for tolling if they meet the requirements for financing through the new Authority, even if they are financed by other means. 

The only political approval that would be required for these new toll projects would be a majority vote by the board of the project sponsor authorizing the imposition of tolling, OR majority approval of the voters in its jurisdiction. 

AB 798 has been described by Treasurer Lockyer as promoting public-public partnerships vs the public private partnerships for transportation projects approved earlier this year, thus giving Caltrans and local transportation agencies another option to consider.

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