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Sonoma County advances key Bay Trail link, with projected cost of up to $14 million

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

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Op-Ed: Rebuild State Route 37 to address sea level rise and traffic 

Fraser Shilling and Steven Moore, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

State Route 37 — which snakes across Solano, Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties in Northern California — is living on borrowed time.

At times, the highway appears to be impassable because of the 44,000-plus vehicles that travel portions of it every day. However, the effects of climate change will render this critical northern Bay Area crossing absolutely impassable during high tides unless we collaborate regionally on the best way to balance traffic needs and the valuable wetlands the roadway straddles.

The societal challenge we face is adapting to environmental changes in a resilient way while being ecologically sustainable. In the Bay Area, rebuilding State Route 37 to avoid its potential loss in the next 20 years because of flooding will be our first regional foray into adapting to sea level rise — an issue that will threaten most of our shoreline infrastructure, coastal ecosystems and population centers.

State Route 37 provides a critical “northern crossing” of the San Pablo Bay as it stretches from Interstate 80 in the east, to Highway 101 in the west, serving local residents, commuters and visitors, as well as freight haulers traveling between the Central Valley and the Santa Rosa area. Today the highway is built atop a berm, an outdated method of building roads across marshes and waterways that constricts the ability of the bay to improve water quality by filtering out pollutants, produce more fish and wildlife, and absorb floods.

The temptation may be to work on a quick, easy fix that reduces traffic congestion while ignoring long-term consequences. These consequences include traffic congestion returning to current levels in a few years, and the San Pablo Bay tidal marshes being cut off from the life-giving ebb and flow of the tides.

Read more at: Rebuild State Route 37 to address sea level rise and traffic – San Francisco Chronicle

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, TransportationTags , , ,

Shoring up the state: Is California’s response to rising seas enough?

Julie Cart, VENTURA COUNTY STAR

In Sonoma County, Highway 37, built on a base of mud, flooded on 27 days last winter and has already sunk more than two feet, according to Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt. He said that the state’s transportation agency, Caltrans, told local officials that it could get to the problem in 2088.

Four affected counties, unable to wait 71 years, are considering a number of options, including putting the critical commuter highway atop a 6-foot levee. The price tag for the 20-mile project is as much as $4 billion, and no one knows who will pay for it. 

For Will Travis, it began 12 years ago, with an eye-opening article in the New Yorker magazine about rising seas and the widespread flooding and dislocation that would bring. As the executive director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the region’s coastal management agency, he needed to know more.

Travis directed his staff to research the issue. In 2007 they handed him a report that foretold catastrophe. The agency produced maps with colorful, frightening flood projections and shared it with local policymakers. Trillions of dollars in public and private infrastructure were at risk, Travis told them. The time to prepare was now.

Yet the region’s elected officials and Silicon Valley’s cluster of high-tech firms were deaf to the urgency of his message. No one was planning for higher seas. Their problems were more immediate.“

What I heard a lot was, ‘I’m trying to get my kid into a good college, my wife wants me to lose weight, the car transmission is making a funny noise and you want me to worry about sea level rise?’” Travis said. “‘Yeah, I’ll get to that when I prepare my earthquake supplies.’”

He crafted a policy response for his region anyway. In 2011, after four years of scientific analysis, intense bickering, and legal fights, the commission issued what Travis described as the nation’s first enforceable requirement that all shoreline development address the problem of rising seas.

Read more at: Shoring up the state: Is California’s response to rising seas enough?

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Bay Area officials eye future tolls as way to upgrade troubled Highway 37

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

North Bay motorists suffering through congested traffic on Highway 37 or long detours from closures of the roadway caused by flooding may wish for anything to relieve them of their misery.

But does that include paying tolls?

A fee-based future appears to be gaining traction with a key advisory group tasked with long-term solutions for traffic and flooding on the heavily traversed 21-mile highway from Vallejo to Novato.“

I think everyone acknowledges there’s few options other than tolls to generate revenue needed to do a project of that scale in that location,” said Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, chairman of the Highway 37 Policy Committee.

Rabbitt spoke Thursday following the committee’s meeting at Mare Island in Vallejo. The group includes representatives of transportation agencies in Sonoma, Marin, Napa and Solano counties, as well as the Metropolitan Transportation Agency.

Highway 37, which skirts the edge of San Pablo Bay, is increasingly at risk from sea level rise, and this winter was closed for weeks at a time as a result of storm-related flooding. The segment east of Sonoma Raceway, which narrows to two lanes, is a particularly problematic choke-point.

Read more at: Bay Area officials eye future tolls as way to upgrade troubled Highway 37 | The Press Democrat

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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

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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