Highway 37 closure still causing headaches for motorists

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Crews racing to repair and reopen Highway 37 in northern Marin County faced a new challenge Wednesday: shoring up a segment of the roadway that appears to have shifted in recent storms, according to a North Coast lawmaker.

Water inundating marshland beneath the major commuter thoroughfare moved a section of the eastbound lanes between Highway 101 and Atherton Avenue, State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said.

He said the highway in that direction also has sunk by about a foot.

“First and foremost, we have to stabilize the roadway to make additional fixes now and into the future,” McGuire said.

Neither McGuire nor Caltrans officials had a timeline for when the highway will partially or fully reopen. It has been closed in both directions between Highway 101 and Atherton Avenue since Feb. 9.

The closure is a major headache for commuters who rely on Highway 37 to cut travel times between Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties. Roughly 41,000 vehicles pass through that stretch of highway on a daily basis, according to Caltrans.

“Is there frustration? Yes, absolutely, it’s hard not to be frustrated, especially during commute hours,” CHP Officer Andrew Barclay said.

Barclay said officers are being stationed at key points along the detour onto Atherton Avenue during morning and evening commutes to speed traffic through stop signs and traffic lights. Otherwise, he said, traffic would be at such a standstill residents along Atherton would have difficulty leaving their neighborhoods.

“It would be absolute gridlock out there” without the traffic control, Barclay said.

The highway was partially or fully closed in the same area over the course of 12 days in January. Officials pin blame for the problems on a number of factors including heavy rainfall, high tides, levee breaks and steady erosion beneath the roadway. The 21-mile highway is one of the lowest-lying in California and was built in segments across marshland skirting San Pablo Bay.

The area of current focus is just east of Highway 101, in the Novato Creek watershed, which drains into the bay near the mouth of the Petaluma River. Officials say sediment buildup in creeks and streams contributed to flooding of the highway.

Floodwaters also punctured a hole in the levee running along pastureland owned by the Leveroni family, forcing them to move cattle to drier ground, Joyce Leveroni said Tuesday.

She said in addition to higher feed costs, the family will bear at least some of the cost for repairing the levee.

But that will only happen when flooding in the pasture recedes so the work can begin.

“We’re hoping to get assistance, but it’s our property. Our biggest problem will be to get the permits to do (the work),” Leveroni said.

The pasture is adjacent to Highway 37 where crews with Santa Rosa-based Ghilotti Construction Co. were working Tuesday to shore up the roadway.

McGuire said the emergency repairs are in addition to longer-term fixes officials announced last week, including raising 1,500 feet of the road in both directions and replacing the existing drainage system with larger pipes. Plans also include repaving that stretch of road.

The emergency repairs could increase project costs by several million dollars, McGuire said. The original estimate for the work was between $8 million and $11 million.

He said funding will come from a Caltrans account composed of state and federal monies. But he said it could be several more days before the highway opens again.

“We need a few days of dry weather to complete the paving,” McGuire said. “And there’s a storm coming in.”

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 707-521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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