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Where Does The Money From Toll Bridges Go?


As a resident of the city of San Francisco, I regularly find myself paying tolls to get back home after traveling by car in the surrounding Bay Area. Every time that I cross a toll bridge, I look around at the number of cars surrounding me and think about the massive amount of money that must get collected every single day on each bridge in the area. That has definitely caused me to wonder where exactly that money is going.

After doing some research, what I have discovered is that the money that is generated from toll bridges around the United States is typically used to fund highway projects. In some cases, a toll bridge might be erected for another purpose. However, most bridges collect tolls specifically to help defray the costs of the bridges themselves as well as to pay for some of the costs of operating the state highway organizations.

Looking at the San Francisco Bay area alone, here are some of the things that the toll monies are used for:

  • Construction on and around the bridges where there are tolls. You would be surprised how often it is necessary for one of these bridges to be under some sort of construction. Accidents happen and the bridge needs to be repaired or congestion causes a need to increase the size of the bridge. This type of construction is paid for using the monies collected via the tolls.
  • Construction of new bridges. The bridges that exist today weren't always around and they aren't always going to be the only ones there are. New bridges are constructed periodically using the money that is generated on tolls from the existing bridges.
  • Bridge maintenance. With so many cars going over these bridges on a regular basis, it is of the utmost importance that the bridges be kept in safe and working condition at all times. This maintenance doesn't come cheap. It is paid for by the money collected from tolls.
  • Seismic retrofitting. In the San Francisco Bay Area there is always the risk of an earthquake. Back in 1989, an earthquake seriously damaged the East Bay Bridge and caused one death to a passenger. In order to limit the impact of earthquakes to the bridges, the bridges undergo seismic retrofitting which makes them safer in case an earthquake does occur. Toll monies pay for that to happen.
  • Aesthetics. Cities don't want to look ugly. To improve the way that the bridges and the area surrounding them look takes some money. When changes take place to beautify the bridge area, you can thank the toll money for paying for that.

These same types of things are what would be paid for by most tolls collected on bridges throughout the nation. However it should be noted that not all toll bridges are operated by state highway organizations. Some toll bridges are operated by quasi-governmental agencies that win approval to collect tolls to fund specific projects or construction. These toll bridges are usually temporary (a few years) and the money generated goes specifically to the project for which the toll was approved.


Justin on January 05, 2012:

I think that this is crap, they tell us that it cost this much in maintaining the bridge and what not, but do you acutually pay attention to the people doing the work you usually see one guy pushing dirt around and two other guys standing talking, another eating, its ridiculous. They say californina is broke its a lie. If you look at Sanfrancisco alone, I believe they generatate 8million dollars quarterly on just parking citations, that's not including speeding tickets, seatbelt tickets, etc... where is that money going I ask. I tell people don't believe what the government says where the money is going. It goes in their pockets that's where it goes....

jenny on June 26, 2011:

each day 118,000 passengers cross this bridge. beside pay repairs and people working in the bridge, it don't take millions of dollars. don't forget there are people owning bridge stockl.

ParadigmShift... from San Jose, CA on August 06, 2008:

Thanks for this information, but I still find it hard to believe that a million people cross the Bay Bridge every day, paying four dollars each, and California has a budget deficit?? Maybe the governator should trade in that Hummer and get a Prius! And give some money back to our schools!

abowie from San Francisco on August 05, 2008:

I was wondering where all that money goes the other day! As a resident myself I often wonder how much of our money simply goes to painting the Golden Gate Bridger "gold."

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