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Seven years after the toll for the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge was dropped, a controversial proposal to bring it back is in the works. The toll would fund construction of an underground tunnel or underpasses along Third and Fourth Streets in Coronado to ease traffic congestion that also impacts San Diego freeways.

A panel discussion on the topic (an unofficial city meeting with only one councilmember present) was held February 19 at the Coronado Community Center.

Coronado assistant city manager Jim Benson warned of “virtual gridlock” when a third naval carrier arrives in 2010. Other experts who fielded questions and gave presentations on modern tolling technology, public-private partnerships, and funding options included SANDAG executive director Gary Gallegos, South Bay Expressway CFO Tony Evans, and Kent Olsen (PB Americas, Inc.).

The Nautilus Room was packed with well-heeled silver-haired residents, including many toll opponents. Questions ranged from, “What if there’s a jumper on the bridge?” to “When will the toll end?”

One father complained that local travel would become costly because of the amount of his children’s after-school activities. He pointed out that residents would pay more in tolls than the personnel that work on North Island.

The Navy, said Benson, is responsible for about two-thirds of the congestion during peak morning and evening rush hours and should fund the solution.

Coronado resident Lydia Buchanan, who insists she is "not paying for that tunnel," also believes the Navy ought to fund the solution. At an estimated cost of $115-$500 million, however, the Navy "isn't enamored with the idea," Benson said.

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