Paying the Toll
Local Power, Regional Politics, and the Golden Gate BridgeUniversity of Pennsylvania Press American Business, Politics, and Society
296 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 29 illus.
- Published: December 2013
- Published: October 2011
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Since its opening in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge has become an icon for the beauty and prosperity of the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as a symbol of engineering achievement. Constructing the bridge posed political and financial challenges that were at least as difficult as those faced by the project's builders. To meet these challenges, northern California boosters created a new kind of agency: an autonomous, self-financing special district. The Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District developed into a powerful organization that shaped the politics and government of the Bay Area as much as the bridge shaped its physical development.
From the moment of the bridge district's incorporation in 1928, its managers pursued their own agenda. They used all the resources at their disposal to preserve their control over the bridge, cultivating political allies, influencing regional policy, and developing an ambitious public relations program. Undaunted by charges of mismanagement and persistent efforts to turn the bridge (as well as its lucrative tolls) over to the state, the bridge district expanded into mass transportation, taking on ferry and bus operations to ensure its survival to this day.
Drawing on previously unavailable archives, Paying the Toll gives us an inside view of the world of high-stakes development, cronyism, and bureaucratic power politics that have surrounded the Golden Gate Bridge since its inception.
Introduction: "Agency Run Amok"
1. A Bridge to Prosperity
2. A District Divided
3. The District and Its Enemies
4. The Defeat of the Golden Gate Authority
5. Rapid Transit Versus the Golden Gate Bridge
6. James Adam, Boss of the Golden Gate Bridge
7. Regionalism, Transportation, and Perpetual Tolls
Conclusion: Subsidies, Suicides, and Sensitivity
"A splendid blend of narrative political history and political science theory based mostly on deep archival digging, newspaper research, and interviews. . . . Dyble indicts the Golden Gate Bridge and Tunnel Authority for its arrogance, corruption, and self-perpetuating administration of the bridge."—Journal of American History
"Urban historian Louis Nelson Dyble lays bare the politics, scandal, corruption, and arrogance that mask what she calls the bridge's 'mythic proportions' and 'heroic beauty'. Dyble's work is not a deconstruction of the bridge itself, but rather an intriguing exposé of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District. . . . Her telling of this experience is useful for any emerging scholar seeking to unravel the intricacy of public policy debates. It can be an uncomfortable, awkward, suspect, and thankless task, but Dyble's book shows the benefits when one prevails."—Journal of Historical Geography
"An important contribution to the study of business history. . . . Louise Nelson Dyble recounts the history of a special district, the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District (aka the Bridge District), which was created to build and service the debt for financing the Golden Gate Bridge."—Enterprise and Society
"Dyble possesses a firm grasp of current scholarship, drawing upon work written by historians, political scientists, and legal scholars. Her in-depth discussion of special districts during the course of the twentieth century and how they played out is itself worthy of the price of admission. . . . Paying the Toll has, unquestionably, added an invaluable chapter to historical scholarship. It is deeply researched, very well organized, and well narrated."—Pacific Historical Review
"Dyble's account is complex and in many instances compelling. . . . What might have been an expose of corruption and greed assumes greater power as an assessment of power and policy. Because she writes so well and draws effectively from the archives she managed to penetrate, her argument is both clear and compelling."—Journal of Planning Literature
"In this magnificent gem of a book, Louise Nelson Dyble takes the reader from the dark corners of avaricious public officialdom and smoke-filled rooms to the bright vistas and architectural wonder of the Golden Gate Bridge itself. At once steward of the public interest, notorious bureaucracy, and gateway to northern California, the Bridge and Highway District emerges in Dyble's telling as the center of a multilayered history of the state. The bridge and its legacy have found their historian."—Robert O. Self, Brown University
"Not merely the history of one particularly unresponsive and incompetent government agency that managed to survive-even thrive-despite decades of public discontent and organized opposition from influential politicians and business leaders, Paying the Toll provides us with greater understanding of the institutional structure of American government. A must-read for everyone concerned about our fragmented public sector and its difficulties confronting the demands of the twenty-first century."—Gail Radford, author of Modern Housing for America
- Winner of the 2010 Abel Wolman Award sponsored by the Public Works Historical Society