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causeway that its own studies have identified as the preferred alternative, Caltrans proposed an interim fix — an outdated conventional highway-widening project that will reduce traffic congestion and flood risk at best temporarily.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
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/
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/
Joshua Bote, SFGATE
Route 37 PEL Meeting Jan 25 2022 (Caltrans)
California State Route 37, the major throughway that bridges the divide between Highway 101 and Interstate 80 and serves thousands of drivers daily in the North Bay, is in dire straits.
A recent dispatch from the California Department of Transportation warns that nearly the entire route — spanning Novato to Vallejo — could be “permanently submerged” as soon as 2040 by increasing weather crises and rising sea levels caused by climate change.
Its proximity to the San Pablo Bay makes this route especially vulnerable. The marshlands in the bay, while vital for preventing flooding, are in a precarious state, with a 285-foot-wide levee only being breached in 2015, after the area had been drained and used as farmland for decades. The marshlands in that area still require decades to fully establish.
If left unchanged, the effects will be severe, Caltrans warns. Alternate roads will be clogged up, worsening traffic on other Bay Area highways. Caltrans also warns that “economic loss and reduced opportunity” for Solano County residents could be major impacts.
Already, the impacts of rising sea levels are evident on the highway, with closures popping up more and more in recent years.
Caltrans and affected Bay Area counties have worked over the past decade to shore up Highway 37, with multiple studies conducted and crews working to raise pavement on the highway. Another one, called the Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) study, is set to begin this month and is expected to be the most comprehensive look into the corridor.
Read more at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Highway-37-could-be-underwater-2040-16786102.php?
John King, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
It is by no means the only one. All along San Francisco Bay, low-lying roadways and rail lines face the potential of being flooded as sea levels rise and the bay expands.
“This is a much bigger thing than most people realize,” said Randy Rentschler, director of legislation for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. “The whole area is a transportation network at risk.”
That risk is the result of generations viewing the shoreline’s shallow tidelands and mudflats as easy places to build the infrastructure required by a growing region, including highways and railroad tracks lines. The assumption was that the bay was locked in place — portions could be filled in, but it would never grow.
That assumption didn’t take into account larger changes in the climate triggered by global temperatures that have climbed steadily since 1980 and show no signs of leveling off.
As a result, a study last year by state and regional agencies said the combination of higher tides and rough storms in coming decades could upend travel in all nine Bay Area counties.
Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/projects/2021/san-francisco-bay-area-sea-level-rise-2021/highway-37
Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER
Officials estimate sea level rise will submerge Highway 37 within 30 years if no action is taken.
Faced with a multibillion-dollar price tag to ease congestion on Highway 37 and protect the critical North Bay artery from rising sea levels, State Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa) Friday proposed a novel funding solution — turn the route into a toll road.
Flanked by North Bay transportation, business and environmental leaders on a bluff at Sonoma Raceway overlooking Highway 37, Dodd introduced legislation he authored that would allow the state to immediately collect tolls from motorists between Sears Point and Mare Island.
Dodd said the bill, if passed and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, would kickstart fixes for the vital corridor that sees 40,000 vehicles per day.
“The time is now to improve this essential artery that connects us to jobs and supports our economy,” Dodd said. “If we don’t act, increased traffic and sea level rise will make an already bad situation simply unpassable. Without a dedicated revenue source, the problem won’t be fixed in many of our lifetimes.”
Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/news/10735242-181/toll-road-proposed-for-hwy?sba=AAS
Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER
Imagine driving along a four-lane elevated causeway above the brackish San Pablo Bay, shaving more than an hour off the normal Highway 37 commute.
Transportation planners have for years envisioned remaking the 20-mile route from Novato to Vallejo into the North Bay’s most important east-west corridor. Now, they are ready to act.
Officials in Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties have been meeting for several years, pondering solutions to Highway 37’s notorious bottlenecks, where 45,000 cars per day stretch the normal 20-minute commute to as much as 100 minutes. They have also acknowledged that traffic improvements will be irrelevant without addressing sea level rise — without action, the highway will be underwater in 30 years.
The first fixes will be completed within the next seven years, officials say, and a new formal partnership defines the roles various agencies will play and sets the process in motion.
Branded as Resilient State Route 37, the program that includes the transportation agencies of the four counties plus Caltrans and the Bay Area Toll Authority, is planning vast changes to the highway. The Sonoma County Transportation Authority signed onto the partnership on Monday.
Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/news/9236578-181/major-fixes-for-addressing-traffic
Christian Kallen, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors this week unanimously approved expansion plans for a Sonoma hunting and sport shooting club while also imposing development restrictions sought by opponents of the project.
The outcome supported a compromise deal reached earlier this year between principals of the Wing and Barrel Ranch and a representative for several Sonoma-area residents who objected to the project.
The agreement reduces the size of the proposed clubhouse by about a third, to 18,620 square feet, limits membership and usage numbers, and allows for more public access to the bird-hunting fields, a clay shooting course and a fly-fishing pond.
In addition to a new clubhouse, the county approval advance plans for a new shooting tower on the ranch, which sits on 975 acres of hayfields north of Highway 37, just east of the Highway 121 intersection.
Read more at http://www.sonomanews.com/news/8262215-181/sonomas-wing-and-barrel-ranch
Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The estuary of Tolay Creek southeast of Petaluma offers refuge to a host of wildlife, including rare shorebirds and waterfowl and a species of endangered mouse that lives only in the salt marshes of San Francisco Bay.
But the tidal waterway, which widens as it drains into San Pablo Bay just south of where it crosses under Highway 37, also sits in the way of a key link in the 500-mile trail envisioned to one day circle San Francisco Bay. About 70 percent of the network is complete.
To span the creek and close the 0.8-mile gap between two existing trails, parks officials are proposing a foot and bike path with a hefty projected price tag: $9 million to $14 million, depending on the design and alignment.
“It’s not a cheap endeavor,” said Ken Tam, planner with Sonoma County Regional Parks. “Where the trail alignment is located is actually in mud flats, and the materials to support a pier structure have to go very, very deep in the bedding to be sound. That increases the overall cost of the construction.”
The money could come from an proposed ballot measure in June that would increase in tolls on state-owned bridges in the Bay Area by $1 to raise an estimated $4.45 billion for transportation upgrades in the region. Up to $100 million could go to a long-delayed overhaul of Highway 37, where rebuilding costs are estimated at $1 billion to $4 billion.
The proposed Sears Point trail connector was endorsed as a parks priority last month by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors after an initial study highlighting the recreational demand and obstacles associated with the project.
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8156043-181/sonoma-county-advances-key-bay