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Editorial: The time is now on Highway 37

We’ve already waited too long on this critical roadway that will soon be underwater.|

Those who commute to the city, or anywhere else that requires traversing Highway 37, intimately understand the necessity and fragility of this crumbling roadway. It takes one heavy storm to plunge it underwater, forcing divers to splinter all across the region’s secondary roads looking for a route back home. These detours can take double the time, meaning commuters are left spewing greenhouse gases across Lakeville to Highway 121, all while missing important time at home with family.

With the rising sea levels of climate change only growing worse by the year, something has got to give.

Caltrans and our elected officials have spent plenty of time studying their options. With a major thoroughfare that could become part of the wetlands by 2050, the clock is ticking to find a fix before it is too late. At highest risk is the 21-mile stretch from Novato to Vallejo, which is the “most heavily used east/west highway” in the North Bay, according to Caltrans. Average annual daily trips are only projected to increase, from 45,000 in 2013 to 58,000 by 2040.

In an effort to save this increasingly used highway, Caltrans explored 10 ideas to enhance the route. Most focused on rerouting drivers through different parts of the Bay Area, ideas that were quickly tabled. There was also talk of a costly bridge from Vallejo to Novato. But the idea that has gotten the most traction includes elevating the roadway along its original footprint, work that would preserve the path for commuters while also protecting the wetlands that various conservation groups have spent decades restoring.

“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 Press Democrat reported this week. “The plan is in its early stages and officials haven’t identified a cost or funding source.”

Funding sources — the Achilles heel of any infrastructure project. State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, proposed a toll road from Sears Point to Mare Island, which at $5-$6 a driver, could generate $650 million over 20 years, albeit largely on the backs of workers who cannot afford to live in San Francisco, Marin or Sonoma counties. Senate Bill 1049, meanwhile, would direct $1.9 billion in federal funds to California’s transit projects, including Highway 37.

It’s good to have options, assuming they are good options, which remains to be seen. Whatever the funding source, it needed to be locked down yesterday. We’ve known for decade that trouble was brewing on Highway 37, and not just because of its miles-long bump-to-bumper traffic. We’re out of time to keep debating what to build and how to pay for it — it’s time for a solution if we’re going to avoid this critical artery becoming more blocked than it already is.

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