Paying The Toll by Louise Nelson Dyble

Louise Nelson Dyble‘s recently published Paying The Toll – Local Power, Regional Politics, and the Golden Gate Bridge is a rich compendium of Golden Gate Bridge history.

So rich in the amount of information, that I’ve held off mentioning this book as a blog post because I figured all of you have been on summer vacation and are too busy reading your sci-fi and romance novels. Now that it’s Back-to-School time of year, it’s time to return to serious reading. Make room for this one in your book queue.

Published by the University of Pennsylvania press, “…this is the story of the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District, the government agency that grew into an empire in the shadow of the bridge.”

Louise writes in her introduction, “Agency Run Amok,” “Many San Francisco Bay Area residents expected that bridge tolls would finally be eliminated and the bridge incorporated into the state highway system, as campaign publicity promoting the bonds suggested in 1930.”

Today’s toll to cross southbound on the Golden Gate Bridge is $6 cash and $5 FasTrak.  For comparison, the Bay Bridge toll is currently $4, whether that be cash or FasTrak.  (The Bay Bridge carries 270,000 vehicles a day, on average, while the Golden Gate Bridge reports 110,000.)

“On January 13 (1923), more than two hundred men, most representing northern California government, civic, or business groups, crowded into the assembly room of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, determined to take on the (engineering and financing) challenge (of bridging the golden gate).

Frank P. Doyle, the president and majority shareholder of Sonoma’s largest bank and founding member of the Redwood Highway Association, along with his fellow supporters from the rural north, wanted to promote regional economic development, population growth, and tourism in the dawning age of the automobile.

“San Francisco’s delegates, including Mayor James Rolph, Jr. and the city engineer Michael M. O’Shaughnessy, believed that a bridge to the new suburbs and a vast northern hinterland would help ensure San Francisco’s place at the center of the regional economy and its status as a great city.”

Louise had to call upon the California Public Records Act to gain access to the Golden Gate Bridge District’s records, because her first inquiry into the District’s records was met with an explanation of “prohibitive insurance requirements” and that “the agency could not accept liability for my presence at its offices.”  Besides, Louise was told, “the bridge’s history had already been written and was available at the toll plaza gift shop.”

“At the time of its inception in 1923, the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District was an innovative and ambitious organization with few precedents.  It represented the application of new theories of public administration and a strategic breakthrough in public finance.”

“The history of the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District and the San Francisco Bay Area demonstrates how the officials of even the most unpopular special district can mobilize its resources and independent power to fend off reform and protect its own interests as an agency.”

Special districts proliferated in the decades following World War II — in the absence of regional government and planning — to address major problems that existing local governments did not have the capacity or political will to take on themselves.”

Paying the Toll asks questions such as, “Have special districts removed public decisions and policy-making too far from the democratic process?  Is decentralization of metropolitan area government inevitable and irreversible?”

Louise Nelson Dyble‘s work here “is about bureaucracy as the basic organizational form of the modern state, and of the major American social, business, and political institutions of the twentieth century.”

I told you this was a serious read, didn’t I?

Buy direct from University of Pennsylvania Press or any of these retailers.

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