May 30, 2024
The federal funding is part of a $58.9 million allocation in grants supporting six projects in California designed to strengthen roads against the worsening effects of climate change.

A major project to overhaul a flood-prone section of Highway 37 has received $20 million from the Biden administration.

The Federal Highway Administration funding is part of a $58.9 million allocation in grants supporting six projects in California designed to strengthen roads against the worsening effects of climate change. Nearly $830 million in grant awards will be disbursed nationwide.

The funding is being awarded to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the regional planning agency working on a $430 million to widen a 10-mile stretch of Highway 37 between Sears Point and Mare Island.

The $20 million allocation will specifically support the installation of sheet pile walls, slope reinforcement and raising the grade at two segments. The resilience improvements are scheduled to begin in 2026.

“This $20 million is an important step forward, but it does not close the funding,” said John Goodwin, a spokesperson for MTC.

MTC has secured about $250 million toward the project, including the latest $20 million award.

The grant comes months after MTC received a $50 million grant to support tidal marsh restoration and the replacement of the flood-prone Tolay Creek bridge. The marshland enhancements are the first phase of the larger project.

“This really illustrates one of the difficulties of not just Highway 37, not just the Bay Area, but the whole country to fund a project,” Goodwin said. “It takes so many different sources of revenue, and that means a lot of time, making it chronically difficult to do big infrastructure projects.”

Highway 37, the 21-mile corridor connecting Marin County and Vallejo, is used by 40,000 commuters daily and has become a centerpiece in the local and national debate on how to adapt to climate change.

The highway experiences frequent flooding that has forced closures spanning several days. Caltrans forecast that sea level rise threatens to regularly inundate the highway by 2040.

Ultimately, planners say the entire highway will need to be elevated, an effort costing billions of dollars. MTC’s widening project is an interim strategy.

Today, the 10 miles of the corridor between Sears Point and Mare Island bottlenecks to one lane in each direction. The pinch point causes traffic delays of up to an hour during the westbound morning commute and up to 100 minutes during the eastbound evening commute.

To address this, MTC’s proposal includes a carpool lane in each direction, which officials say is expected to cut delays in half. The new carpool lanes would be for vehicles with at least two passengers as well as for transit vehicles.

The agency received approval from the California Transportation Commission last year to begin tolling the North Bay corridor to help pay for the estimated $430 million job. A condition of the approval is that MTC must first complete the project, establish bus service on the corridor and a discount program for low-income commuters before tolling begins. Planned carpool lanes will not be tolled.

The $20 million grant is part of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient and Cost-saving Transportation, or PROTECT.

“The FHWA’s support shows the Resilient State Route 37 program is not just a Bay Area priority but a national priority,” said Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza, chair of MTC.

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“This is another important step toward assembling the funding needed to meet the challenges facing this corridor,” he said. “In addition to helping us pay for projects to reduce the near-term risk of flooding, the grant money brings us closer to getting started on other improvements to restore the health of the San Pablo Baylands and to add another lane in each direction to relieve the bottleneck from Sears Point to Mare Island.”

Meanwhile, Caltrans needs to close Highway 37 for four consecutive weekends to complete a $5.9 million pavement repair project.

The first closure of the westbound lanes between State Route 29 in Vallejo and State Route 121 in Sonoma begins at 9 p.m. Friday and last until 4 a.m. Monday. The highway will be closed in the same section at the same hours from April 26 to April 29.

Westbound drivers will need to take a detour from State Route 29 to State Route 12 and onto 121.

Eastbound lanes will be closed in the same section on the weekends of May 3 and May 10.