Category Archives: Transportation

New Oakmont bike-pedestrian trail may solve long-simmering access dispute

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A new path nearing completion in Oakmont will soon link the retirement community in east Santa Rosa to Trione-Annadel State Park, and in the process may help solve a long-simmering access dispute.

The 400-foot-long gravel trail is designed to allow bicycle riders and pedestrians to skirt a piece of private property over which the city once held an easement frequently used by the public.

The new path runs parallel to that driveway, links up with city property once used as a wastewater treatment plant and creates a continuous link between Stone Bridge Drive and Channel Drive on the northern side of Annadel.

“We’ve totally bypassed the private property with this path,” said Ken Wells, executive director of the Sonoma Trails Council, which is building the trail with 36 yards of gravel and a lot of volunteer labor from Oakmont residents.

The trail should open as soon as the area has five solid days of warm weather to help the material set, Wells said.

If the city designates a recreational trail across its property – which it is expected to do later this month – the city property and the Oakmont trail together could create a public trail that will not only allow Oakmont residents to access the park but help cyclists stay off busy Highway 12.

“It’s really a good example of the city working with a community group to come up with a creative solution,” said Mayor Chris Coursey, who rode past the path on his bike Thursday afternoon.

Read more at: New Oakmont trail may solve long-simmering access dispute | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living, Transportation

SMART to build second commuter rail station in Petaluma

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

A deal stuck last month between commuter and freight rail agencies could lead to the development of an east Petaluma rail station and a downtown mixed use project.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit authority, which is preparing to launch commuter train service from Santa Rosa to San Rafael later this year, reached the deal with the North Coast Railroad Authority, which operates freight trains on the same stretch of tracks.

As part of the sweeping operating agreement, the NCRA agreed to vacate the downtown rail yard adjacent to the train station on Lakeville Street. NCRA had an easement to park freight trains on the property, complicating SMART’s efforts to develop the land.

“It’s a positive step and a victory for Petaluma,”said Supervisor David Rabbitt, a SMART board member. “It does clear the way for things to move forward.”

With NCRA ceding its interest in the property, SMART is now free to pursue a deal with a developer to sell the downtown land in exchange for construction of a second Petaluma commuter rail platform at Corona Road. The long envisioned second station was promised to voters who approved the commuter rail agency in 2008, but was removed from the initial plans as the agency faced budget uncertainty during the recession.

Read more at: SMART deal could lead to second Petaluma station | Petaluma Argus Courier | Petaluma360.com

Filed under Land Use, Transportation

Caltrans moving ahead with Gleason Beach project

Amie West, SONOMA COUNTY TIMES & NEWS

Proposed roadway. (Caltrans)

The public is invited to a meeting Thursday to discuss the state’s Gleason Beach project, a Highway 1 realignment that would shift the roadway inland and away from ocean erosion of cliffs about five miles north of Bodega Bay.

The meeting will be at the Bodega Bay Marine Lab lecture hall, 2099 Westshore Road in Bodega Bay from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Attendees will be able to view and provide input on the latest roadway and bridge project designs.

The purpose of the project is to provide a safe coastside transportation that avoids erosion undermining the coastal highway. Late last year, Caltrans issued an emergency work order to temporarily stabilize Highway 1 near Gleason Beach after damage from multiple erosive forces made the roadway vulnerable, especially in storms and extreme weather. According to Caltrans, at the current rate of coastal retreat, the roadway at Gleason Beach abutting the coastal bluffs is expected to be undermined within the five years.

The project would construct a 3,700-foot, two-lane roadway and 850-foot long bridge span over Scotty Creek, shifting the entire roadway to the east, away from the eroding cliff side. The road and bridge would be 49 feet wide and include 6-to-8-foot shoulders and a 6-foot wide sidewalk in the southbound direction for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The project also includes improving three access roads to Highway 1, plus additional improvements to vehicle turnouts and adding a dedicated parking area.

The realignment project has already conducted and received a certified Final Environmental Impact/Environmental Assessment under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The EIR states that no significant impact is expected from the project, though Caltrans states the bridge structure will change the visual character of the coastal landscaping looking inland from Gleason Beach.

Caltrans has plans to help mitigate impacts to coastal wetlands, the Scotty Creek floodplain, water quality, federally listed threatened and endangered species, including the Myrtle’s silverspot butterfly, and the rural character of the coastal Sonoma County landscape.  Caltrans expects the project will improve the environmental baseline of the Scotty Creek floodplain because the bridge will span the floodplain and remove a culvert currently spanning the creek that creates a potential barrier to migrating salmonids.

Read more at: Caltrans moving ahead with Gleason Beach project | News | sonomawest.com

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Transportation

Sonoma Valley growth sparks debate over area’s future

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The “Scenic Route” sign on Highway 12 announces the obvious to motorists heading into the Valley of the Moon. It’s cradled by mountains, dotted with giant oaks, horse ranches, vineyards, remnants of old orchards and the odd water tower.

The road delivers inspiring views of imposing Hood Mountain, its craggy face standing sentinel over a historic route from Santa Rosa to Sonoma that carried stagecoaches and trains before the automobile took over.But today, the two-lane highway is crowded with traffic generated by commuters, residential and commercial development, sightseers and visitors headed to wineries and tasting rooms.

winery map, Sonoma Valley

Winery Expansion on Sonoma Highway 12 (Press Democrat, from Sonoma County PRMD, October 2016.)

The northern arm of Sonoma Valley, between Madrone and Melita roads, is home to more than 40 tasting rooms and event centers that each year attract more than 140,000 people to special events. They could be joined by another half-dozen or more tasting rooms and more than 110 annual special events with 20,000 more people if permits in the pipeline previously approved, but not yet built, are exercised.

The burgeoning wine industry and plans for a high-end luxury hotel, spa and winery off La Campagna Lane in Kenwood have especially drawn attention and opposition while highlighting the impact of development along the county’s busiest wine road.

The growth has set off alarms among rural residents concerned about the loss of agricultural land and the vehicles and noise generated by winery events, especially on weekends. They raise the specter of “Napafication,” the fear that roads will become as clogged as in Napa Valley, where traffic on Highway 29 slows to a long crawl on Saturdays and Sundays when visitors stream to the abundant large corporate-owned wineries.

Read more at: Sonoma Valley growth sparks debate over area’s future

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Caltrans announces Highway 37 emergency construction 

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State highway officials are rushing to stabilize low-lying Highway 37 in northern Marin County on an emergency basis to prepare for another strong storm forecast to hit the region Thursday.

The highway has been inundated with flooding water from a series of January and February storms, causing road closures and traffic headaches for commuters dependent on the major Sonoma and Marin county thoroughfare.

A three-mile stretch of Highway 37 between Highway 101 and Atherton Avenue has been closed since Feb. 9. CHP officials Monday said they expected it to remain closed until at least Thursday while road crews work around the clock to raise it.

Caltrans has hired Santa Rosa-based Ghilotti Construction Co. to do the work, according to the CHP. A company representative couldn’t be reached Monday. A Caltrans spokesman didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.One of the lowest lying state roads in California, Highway 37 crosses marshlands, rivers and creeks along the San Pablo Bay.

Read more at: Caltrans announces Highway 37 construction | The Press Democrat

Filed under Transportation

In demand but increasingly swamped, Highway 37 has no easy fixes

Peter Fimrite, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

“This is something we foresaw because there are several low spots along these berms and levees,” said [Fraser] Shilling, whose report, Rising Above the Tide, says sea levels have already risen 8 inches along the California coast.

Persistently swamped Highway 37 — historically a sore spot for motorists — is rapidly becoming one of the Bay Area’s most pressing issues as heavy storms keep rolling through this winter, forcing repeated closures of a crucial transportation link.

The peculiar highway, which looks more like a rural farm road in places, connects the North Bay to the East Bay by cutting through wetlands and hay fields along the northern shore of San Pablo Bay. Wine Country day-trippers use it, as do drivers headed to Sonoma Raceway and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo.

The increasingly popular artery, which was shut down for much of last week, has been closed for about three weeks this winter because of flooding.

The soggy blockages have raised aggravation levels among tens of thousands of commuters who use Highway 37 each day, and are providing a disturbing glimpse into what ecologists say is a wetter future, in which floodwaters powered by climate change could permanently drown the roadway.

“It is definitely the most problematic area in the Bay Area from the point of view of shoreline flooding and threats to communities and infrastructure,” said Fraser Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis and author of a 2016 report analyzing the future of the highway.

Read more at: In demand but increasingly swamped, Highway 37 has no easy fixes – San Francisco Chronicle

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Transportation

Close to Home: Plans to fix Highway 37 need public support

David Rabbitt, Jake Mackenzie & Susan Gorin, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

To stay informed:

Follow Highway 37 on Facebook: facebook.com/route37/

Sonoma County Transportation Authority documents: http://scta.ca.gov/projects/highway37/

UC Davis Road Ecology Center: https://roadecology.ucdavis.edu/

Highway 37 was closed for nearly half of January. This 21-mile east-west corridor carries 44,000 vehicles each day and provides a critical link for commuters, weekend trips and freight hauling.

The recent news stories and editorial (“A glimpse of Highway 37’s flooded future?” Jan. 26) about flooding, correctly point out that local policymakers are working hard to figure out how to make the much-needed improvements happen quickly. It is not a simple nor easy task, but work is underway.

Two key facts have been established:Initial studies conducted by Caltrans and UC Davis provide preliminary analysis about how sea level rise will impact the corridor. It is dramatic information that shows complete inundation by the end of this century.

Traffic counts and analysis have been conducted to identify who is using the corridor at certain locations. The results show an even split among the four counties, but the direction of travel is very dependent on the time of day, with commuters going west in the morning and east in the evening.

There are five areas where action is underway:

1. Caltrans is pulling together plans and resources to raise the roadway where flooding occurred and pumping was needed.

2. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has a contract already in place to analyze alternatives for all the problems facing the Highway 37 corridor — traffic congestion, flooding during storm events and other approaches such as bikeways, buses and rail. The $1 million evaluation of design alternatives will be completed in December.

3. Decisions on if and how a proposal to privatize a portion of the roadway — from Sears Point to Mare Island — fits into the solution.

4. Community outreach through public meetings, websites and social media have begun and will ramp up in 2017 as we have more detailed concepts related to environmental impacts, design ideas and funding options.

5. Funding is the most significant challenge. State and federal transportation money will be needed for a project of this size. Estimated costs far exceed $1 billion. And, at the same time, it is not the only large highway project we need to work on. In Sonoma County, we need to finish Highway 101; plus there are important projects on Interstate 80 at 680 in Solano County, on Highway 101 at 580 in Marin County and on Highway 29 in Napa County.

The funding challenge has led to an exploration of charging drivers like a toll bridge. In other corridors where this approach has been used — such as the Golden Gate Bridge — the user fees help provide the funds for improving and maintaining the corridor.

As the three Sonoma County representatives on the four-county policy committee, we ask for your help to find the best solutions.

The authors are members of the State Route 37 Policy Committee. Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt is chairman of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority and chairman of the State Route 37 Policy Committee. Rohnert Park Mayor Jake Mackenzie is incoming chairman of the Metropolitain Transportation Commission and a member of the State Route 37 Policy Committee. Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin is a board member for the Transportation Authority and is also a member of the State Route 37 Policy Committee.

Source: Close to Home: Plans to fix Highway 37 need public support | The Press Democrat

Filed under Transportation

Debate stalled over how to upgrade Highway 37 to deal with climate change

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Surveying flooding along Highway 37 in January, ecologist Fraser Shilling began doubting his projections for when climate change will cause severe, perhaps catastrophic impacts on the major North Bay thoroughfare.

In an influential 2016 report used as a guide for the highway’s future, Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis, had established a timetable of several decades for those impacts to be fully realized.

But that was before January storms forced the full or partial closure of the highway for roughly 12 days, causing havoc for thousands of daily commuters.

“We’re starting to overwhelm the system in places that we were thinking we had 20 years of lead time. But we don’t,” Shilling said this week from his office in Davis. Delaying action could be catastrophic, he said, predicting that one day water will push over embankments and levees and the highway will be “gone.”

Highway 37, one of the lowest-lying in California, has long been threatened by climate change and rising sea levels, inadequate levees and political waffling over who bears responsibility for maintaining and upgrading the road. The 21-mile highway meanders across four counties — Solano, Napa, Sonoma and Marin — traversing tidal marshlands, rivers and creeks, and farmland where flooding presents a threat to livelihoods.

“You’ve got farms, freeways and frustrated drivers — and sea level rise,” said Brian Swedberg, who manages 525-acre Petaluma River Farms north of the highway across from Port Sonoma.

Read more at: Rising seas and pounding storms taking toll on Highway 37 | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Transportation, Water

Occidental sewage transfer may be stalled by legalities

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES

A county plan to truck Occidental’s sewage to Guerneville for treatment and disposal appears to be stopped up for now owing to neighborhood opposition and possible legal issues.

Guernewood Park neighbors near the site where sewage would be unloaded at a Russian River Sanitation District pump station met with new Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins last week to vent their concerns about neighborhood truck traffic, potential odors and other compatibility issues if the sewage plan goes forward.

A sympathetic Hopkins told neighbors there may also be a legal problem if proposed pump station improvements, including a new paved driveway under the redwoods at the site, constitute an expansion of the sewer system onto vacant residential property next door.

“I don’t see how we can say that’s not an expansion,” said Hopkins, regarding a proposed new turnaround that sewage trucks would need on the property next to the lift station located between Highway 116 and Riverside Dr.

Sonoma County acquired the neighboring property in the 1980s as part of a legal settlement with the owner; a condition of the sale included an agreement that the county would not expand sewage system operations onto the neighboring property, said Hopkins. The previous owner had a house on the property that was in the path of a prevailing breeze carrying the lift station’s smell. The county demolished the house.

The deed restriction only surfaced last week after neighbors began asking questions about the Occidental sewage transfer plan that seemed to have been formulated with numerous discussions among Occidental Sanitation District residents but little or no dialogue with Guerneville residents whose properties would be impacted by the sewage transfer process involving from five to 15 daily truck deliveries of raw sewage arriving at the Riverside Drive lift station.

A Sonoma County Water Agency environmental review of the plan last year concluded it would have “no significant impact” on the Riverside Drive environment, but neighbors last week said they were never told about the project and are prepared to challenge the environmental finding in court.

Read more at: Occidental sewage transfer may be stalled by legalities – Sonoma West Times and News: News

Filed under Sustainable Living, Transportation, Water

Op-Ed: A glimpse of Highway 37’s flooded future?

Editorial Board, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Highway 37 is flooded again, with a three-mile stretch east of Highway 101 inundated by as much as five feet of water less than a week after the previous flood receded.

With no place to pump the flood water, it could be several days before this important regional link reopens. The prior closure lasted more than week.

For anyone who commutes to Marin County from the Sonoma Valley, Napa or Vallejo, or anyone headed the opposite direction, it’s a time-consuming nuisance.

Worse, these unprecedented floods may be more than a side-effect of our drought-busting winter. They could be a glimpse of what climate change and rising sea levels have in store of the North Bay.Sonoma County’s transportation agency warns that high tides eventually could wash over parts of Highway 37 twice a day, and UC researchers say the segment between the Petaluma River and Lakeville Highway is at risk of “permanent inundation” if sea level rises 12 inches — about 20 percent of what some recent models project by the end of the century.

This is where we would like to tell you about an expedited plan to protect the highway and the thousands of people who use it daily from routine flooding.

But there isn’t any such plan.

Highway 37 is one of the lowest lying highways in California, and it could be one of the first roads threatened by climate change, but flood-proofing and other improvements are nowhere to be found on the state’s list of infrastructure projects. Moreover, because it passes through parts of four counties over its relatively short 21-mile path, Highway 37 isn’t viewed by any of those counties as its top transportation priority. To their credit, however, the counties recently formed a panel to study traffic and flooding concerns.

The only pending proposal for Highway 37 is a private venture’s offer to build a four-lane causeway between Sears Point and Vallejo, where there are now just two lanes. The expansion would be paid for by imposing tolls.

Read more at: PD Editorial: A glimpse of Highway 37’s flooded future? | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Transportation