Victoria Brandon, PRESS DEMOCRAT
Everyone agrees that Highway 37 needs fixing.
For nearly a decade, the environmental community has debated plans to restructure Highway 37 between Vallejo and Marin County. Usually, environmental engagement on highway projects focuses on ways to reduce negative impacts, but in this case there is an opportunity for a genuinely positive outcome.
Replacement of the current road with a built-for-resilience elevated causeway would not only protect the highway from flooding, it would reconnect the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge and other tidal wetlands to San Francisco Bay waters.
Wetlands sequester carbon dioxide, encourage biodiversity by increasing ecologically vital habitat and play a crucial role in meeting the state’s 30 by 30 goals — preserving 30% of land and coastal waters by 2030.
Elevating the highway would also increase the climate resilience of North Bay communities by buffering high-tide events and reducing nearby flooding and by allowing more sediment to flow into San Pablo Bay, which will help protect marshes and communities against sea level rise.
Everyone agrees that Highway 37 needs fixing. Not only does heavy commute traffic and the absence of a transit alternative create daily gridlock, portions of the road become impassable when bay waters are high, and climate change is only going to make that situation worse.
Sierra Club Redwood Chapter activists were therefore disappointed when instead of moving forward with an elevated causeway that its own studies have identified as the preferred alternative, Caltrans proposed an interim fix — an outdated conventional highway-widening project that will reduce traffic congestion and flood risk at best temporarily.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/opinion/close-to-home-a-right-way-and-a-wrong-way-to-fix-highway-37/#comments
Adrian Covert & Alexa Forrester, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
What if we told you there was a cheap and easy way to reduce traffic in Santa Rosa by as much as 25%?
It’s called Class IV protected bike lanes.
Every day, about a quarter of all car trips in Santa Rosa are less than 2 miles. That’s about a 10-minute bike ride for the average adult, comparable to the amount of time it would take to drive that same distance and park. For these small trips, biking is a time-competitive and virtually free alternative to cars that also strengthens physical fitness and generally creates good community vibes (join the Taco Tuesday Ride from Humboldt Park to Mitote Food Park if you don’t believe us). Bikes are also quiet, clean and require little public space.
Yet just 1.6% of all trips in Santa Rosa are made by bike. Bikes are used about six times less often in Santa Rosa than in San Luis Obispo, and 16 times less often than in Davis. Despite its comparatively miserable weather, Amsterdam residents are 24 times more likely to bike to their destination than Santa Rosa residents.
This is an infrastructure problem. Santa Rosa’s bike lanes are almost entirely made up of Class II bikeways — painted lines along the shoulder of a road. Riding mere feet away from increasingly distracted drivers behind the wheels of increasingly large vehicles is neither safe nor pleasant. Since 2012, nearly 500 cyclists have been injured by cars in Santa Rosa, including two who were killed. Small wonder cycling in the city is limited to the most fearless riders.
Santa Rosa could have as many as 24,000 new homes by 2050. To avoid the city becoming choked with car traffic, we must provide safe biking and scooting infrastructure for those who want that option, especially for short trips.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/opinion/close-to-home-santa-rosa-needs-protected-bike-lanes/
Alana Minkler & Colin Atagi, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Two electric buses arrived in Santa Rosa on Wednesday morning and two more are on the way as the city is poised to put them into service later this year — the start of a bigger shift to eliminate carbon emissions tied to the CityBus fleet.
The switch to electrical buses is part of the city’s initiative to make public transportation fully zero-emission by 2030 and drastically lower carbon emissions in the transportation sector, which accounts for 60% of climate warming gases in the county.
The city’s all-electric buses, which cost $1.2 million each, join three currently in the county fleet, and are part of the broader plan by transit and fleet managers eyeing a transition away from fossil fuel vehicles over the coming years.
Sonoma County Transit introduced its first electric bus in 2018 and plans to add three more by the end of this year, with up to 19 in service by mid-2024, said Sonoma County Transit Systems Manager Bryan Albee said.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/santa-rosa-acquires-new-electric-transit-buses-readying-first-two-for-serv/
Colin Atagi, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
The favored plan also proposes the route have a 60 mph speed limit, as well as two lanes in each direction with bicycle and pedestrian paths. The plan is in its early stages and officials haven’t identified a cost or funding source.
Caltrans, in order to keep traffic flowing decades from now, intends to build an elevated road along Highway 37 to combat rising water levels, which are expected to eventually inundate the North Bay arterial.
The proposed project essentially stretches across the existing route along San Pablo Bay and through Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties.
It preserves travel patterns, allows landward marsh migration and is resilient to sea level rises, officials said in explaining its benefits.
Read more at https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/article/news/hwy-37-could-be-under-water-by-2050-heres-how-caltrans-plans-to-keep-tra/
Paulina Pineda, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa became the largest city in the nation to ban new gas stations on Tuesday, joining other cities in Sonoma County that have led a coordinated effort to combat climate impacts of fossil fuel.
In the latest volley of a locally grown movement that supporters hope will catch on across the nation, the City Council voted 6-0 to ban construction of gas stations and expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure at existing gas stations within city limits.
The new rules will not close gas stations though it will put some limits on current operators.
Santa Rosa has 44 operating gas stations and there are two proposed stations under review at Rincon Road and North Wright Road. Gas stations that submit completed applications before the ban goes into effect in October will be considered by staff.
With Tuesday’s vote, more than half of Sonoma County residents will live in a jurisdiction that has banned gas stations. Supporters point to elected officials in Los Angeles and mid-state New York who are looking at similar ordinances.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/santa-rosa-approves-ban-on-new-gas-stations/
Chase Hunter, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
Highway 37 serves as a key artery of Bay Area traffic from Marin County to Vallejo, but its low-lying place in former wetlands makes it susceptible to flooding and sea level rise over coming decades.
Leaders in transportation will need to address two issues at once to ensure the long-term sustainability of the key corridor: the creation of flood-resistant, sea-level impervious infrastructure and the environmental restoration of the wetlands.
“You can’t do the environmental restoration and address sea level rise without doing the transportation project. And you can’t do the transportation improvement projects without addressing sea level rise,” said Suzanne Smith, the executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.
Read more at https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/article/article/sea-level-rise-threatens-highway-37-leaders-prepare-billion-dollar-plan-to/
Dan Ashley & Tom Didion, ABC7 NEWS
There’s a vocal debate over building a better Bay Area, by building a better highway. At stake is not just traffic, but potentially vast stretches of restored wetlands.
When Kendall Webster gazes across the levees and farmland in southern Sonoma County, she can envision the tidal marshes that once flushed water back and forth from meandering waterways to San Pablo Bay.
“And so this whole flatland here was a mosaic of tidal wetlands,” she explains.
It’s a vast expanse of wetlands that the Sonoma Land Trust and their partners are working to restore.
“And you know, California is investing in climate, the way no other state in the country is right now. So we think that this is the natural infrastructure project that the state should be highlighting,” Webster maintains.
To make that vision a reality, the Trust has joined with Save the Bay and more than a dozen environmental and land management groups, urging Cal/Trans and the state to remove the one barrier that could open up natural marshland across the entire North Bay.
Read more at https://abc7news.com/highway-37-restoring-sonoma-county-wetlands-san-pablo-bay-land-trust-restoration/12117895/
Andrew Graham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County will pilot a new $6 million effort to develop a unified mapping system that will help commuters better navigate the Bay Area’s 27 public transit systems, beginning in 2024.
The goal is to develop digital and physical maps and a wayfinding system that would provide uniform signage, information about walking distances, along with shuttle options between bus stops, train stations and ferry terminals.
The unified regional mapping system was one of 27 recommendations made by a task force convened to encourage riders’ return to public transportation as COVID-19 restrictions on social gathering and office work have been relaxed.
The task force was formed in 2020 by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the government agency that oversees transportation planning in the Bay Area.
Design and installation of the new system is scheduled to begin in early 2024. The initial roll out will include new signs and physical maps. The system is to begin with transit locations in Sonoma County before expanding into Solano County and then the rest of the Bay Area.
Sonoma County is a good place to start the project because it is an example, on a small scale, of the challenges of navigating disparate public transit systems, commission spokesperson John Goodwin told The Press Democrat on Wednesday. Sonoma County has different bus systems in its various cities, in addition to the Sonoma County Transit system and the Sonoma Marin Area Regional Transit System passenger train.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-to-play-host-to-start-of-6-million-effort-to-unify-maps-of-b/
Sonia Waraich, FORT BRAGG ADVOCATE-NEWS
Federal regulators have decided to turn down a late application from a shadowy corporation seeking to take over the 175 miles of rail line stretching from Willits to Eureka, which may have submitted a fraudulent bank statement with its filing earlier this month.
“(North Coast Railroad Company’s) notice of intent will be rejected,” the Surface Transportation Board’s decision states. “NCRCo has not articulated a sufficient reason why its notice could not have been filed by the May 31 deadline, especially given that NCRCo has been an active participant in this proceeding and has noted, in previous filings, its intent to file an (offer of financial assistance).”
North Coast Railroad Company’s proposal to resume service along the rail line would have blocked the ability of the Great Redwood Trail Agency, formerly the North Coast Railroad Authority, to convert the line, which has been out of service for 20 years, into a trail. Part of the process of doing so included getting the OK from the STB to railbank the line, that is to preserve the rail line’s right of way by using it as a trail until conditions for rail service improve.
The North Coast Railroad submitted a poorly redacted filing with the federal STB almost two weeks ago that shows on any given day between March 31 and April 21, its balance with the Self-Help Credit Union fluctuated from less than $100 to a high of $3,269.96. That’s a lot less than $15.7 million beginning and ending balance at the top of the statement.
Read more at https://www.advocate-news.com/2022/06/10/north-coast-railroad-co-s-stb-filing-includes-potentially-fraudulent-bank-statement/
Jeff Morales, CALMATTERS
Decades of federal and state transportation policy and funding have focused primarily on the automobile — and the roads and highways needed for us to get around in them. While this focus produced many benefits, it also ignored or created significant problems, such as greenhouse gas emissions, a key driver of climate change. Today, half of all greenhouse gas emissions in California come from transportation.
Agencies and processes have been built to support this focus. Caltrans and regional transportation agencies receive federal and state funds not only to build and maintain, but also to develop highway and road improvements — doing the planning, public engagement, preliminary design, environmental and other work needed to get projects ready. It can take years for major projects to make it through the approvals required before construction can start. Significant resources are dedicated to this annually, and there are statewide structures in place to carry it out. It is necessary work in order to have a pipeline of projects ready to be implemented when funding becomes available.
No parallel system is in place for public transit and rail projects, however.
Much of this structural disconnect flows down from decades of federal policy and funding constraints. For the most part, public transit and rail improvements are a series of one-off projects, with local agencies on the hook to develop and advance them. Unless the governor and Legislature address this, California’s ambitious climate-related goals for increased public transit and rail will not be realized. If the state wants to change the outcomes, then it is vital that it change the processes and funding that produce the outcomes.
Read more at https://calmatters.org/commentary/2022/05/california-needs-to-put-its-money-where-its-mouth-is-on-public-transportation/