Sonoma forum to explore solutions to challenges facing SR-37
Almost the entire elected delegation of national, state and county representatives will be in Sonoma next Wednesday, May 10, to look for a solution to the most difficult transportation issue facing the North Bay: State Route 37, between Novato and Vallejo.
It's a highway at once over-used and under-resourced, essential and endangered. Sea level rise is apparently inexorable, and traffic jams and tie-ups don't go away when the weather is good. Which is why the Index-Tribune and the Press Democrat will have a special town hall on Wednesday, May 10, to consider 'Highway 37: Where do we go from here?'
The town hall, to be held at the Sonoma Veterans Memorial Building, will include a range of local legislators and other officials whose jurisdictions include Highway 37, the 21-mile link between Highway 101 in Novato and Interstate 80 in Vallejo. Among the elected representatives from national, state and local government seats in attendance will be U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, state Sen. Bill Dodd, Assemblymember Marc Levine, and Sonoma County Supervisors Susan Gorin and David Rabbitt.
Other panel members will include Jake Mackenzie of Rohnert Park's City Council, who serves this year as Metropolitan Transportation Committee Chairman; and Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. An as-yet-unnamed representative from Caltrans is also expected to attend.
John Burns, publisher of the Sonoma Index-Tribune and the Petaluma Argus Courier, will be one of the forum moderators. 'Our goal is to hear from our elected representatives about their best ideas on what solutions can be developed and implemented to resolve the Highway 37 traffic congestion and flooding problems,' said Burns. Paul Gullixson, editorial page editor of the Press Democrat, will join Burns in facilitating the discussion.
The issues that face Highway 37, in addition to flooding at the highway's westernmost stretch outside of Novato, include frequent traffic tie-ups due to heavy commuter usage on the road, which narrows to one lane in each direction for much of its length; sea-level rise due to climate change, which is projected to go as high as six feet by the end of the century; and occasional event congestion at the intersection of Highway 37 with Highway 121, usually but not always associated with races at Sonoma Raceway.
Supervisor Gorin, who helped organize this town hall at the Sonoma Veterans Hall, held a similar public meeting last month, but recognizes that no single community outreach event can fully encompass the challenges of SR-37, also known as Highway 37. 'It is really essential to understand the complexity of this situation, and the challenges that we are faced with on Highway 37 each day,' said Gorin recently.
Both Gorin and Rabbitt are members of the four-county SR 37 Policy Committee, comprised of three representatives each from Napa, Marin, Sonoma and Solano counties. Though SR-37 does not cross into Napa County, it does provide significant traffic access to the Valley from the south, up SR-29 through American Canyon.
'We all recognize that Highway 37 is a vital east-west link,' said Rabbitt, who currently serves as the committee's chair. 'We need to make sure it's going to be there in the future.'
At the earlier Sonoma town hall on the same subject in Sonoma on April 5, the presentation included representatives from United Bridge Partners, a private firm which has proposed a four-lane elevated causeway for much of the length of Highway 37 that would be paid for through driver tolls.
While Caltrans and other state agencies are cautious about such privatization, the state Transportation Agency has done two recent studies on SR-37, including the 'Integrated Traffic, Infrastructure and Sea Level Rise Analysis: Final Report' issued in 2016, in conjunction with UC Davis. That report clearly spells out the issues that face the highway, and proposes three different models for raising the level of the highway to avoid projected sea-level rise along the San Pablo Bay.
A levee-embankment method of simply raising the roadway six to eight feet is projected to cost $1.26 billion; a slab-bridge causeway would cost $3.84 billion; and a box-girder causeway would run $4.3 billion.
Increasing the number of lanes for the current two-lane stretch between Sears Point and the Mare Island Bridge (one lane in each direction) was also proposed, to a four-lane expressway configuration like that found at either end of the stretch, in Novato to Sears Point and in Vallejo from Mare Island to Interstate 80.
Traffic stemming from the growth of the North Bay region is also expected to increase on SR-37 by as much as 85 percent between 2013 and 2040, according to the UC Davis study.
The 2016 study also looked at 'inundation models' to project the impact of sea level rise (SLR) on the roadway, and clearly identified the area east of Novato as at high risk for inundation. That area was closed for a total of 27 days this past January and February due to flooding.
Projected population increases for North Bay counties also factor into planning for SR-37. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has projected that the Bay Area overall will grow by 30 percent by 2040. Marin County is expected to grow by 'only' 13 percent between 2010 and 2040, but both Solano and Sonoma counties show projections of 24 percent growth. Napa comes in at 20 percent increase in population.
'We understand how vital Highway 37 is to the residents and commuters living in Sonoma Valley,' said Gorin. 'This forum will help the community understand the current and future challenges this key connector faces, and potential solutions to enable continued safe passage.'
Sonoma Veterans Memorial Building is located at 126 First St. W., Sonoma. The town hall will start at 6:30 p.m., and is expected to last two hours.
Contact Christian by email at email@example.com.