Cutting Commute Times and Congestion on East-West Roads is a High Priority
While California’s transportation agencies continue to improve our highways running north and south, as with SR 101 upgrades in Sonoma and Marin Counties, there has been far less emphasis on doing the same for east-west connections, such as along State Route 37.
SR 37 traverses four North Bay counties and provides a critical link between jobs in the west and affordable bedroom communities in Solano County. It is also a major commercial link between firms in the coastal counties providing interstate highway connections and railhead access critical for moving goods and services throughout California and the nation.
Sonoma County Transportation Authority (SCTA) Executive Director Suzanne Smith’s August 7 presentation gave us an update on plans to address this bottleneck that has contributed to almost two-hour delays on SR 37 at peak times.
These problems are not easy to solve. Solutions are being considered including more traffic lanes, raising the roadbed, adding intersection roundabouts, building an elevated causeway as well as plans to protect our marshlands and wildlife habitat while providing greater public access.
She gave us a detailed description of how state and local transportation agencies are researching options that will ease congestion, and help us finance these complex projects. Moving forward, creative financing will be needed involving collaboration among a variety of local jurisdictions and authorities along with negotiations that can leverage Bay Area funds to garner state and federal transportation dollars.
All of this comes at a time when the state budget is strained and some news reports indicate the former surplus has been distributed. Today there is less taxpayer enthusiasm for road-related projects where funds raised could be reallocated to the general fund. With higher gas taxes increasing prices at the pump, and more legislative tax initiatives on the drawing board, the cost of highway improvements is steep.
SR 37 improvements could cost $3 billion or more, and the cost of extending SMART passenger rail service from Novato to Solano County is estimated at $5 billion, these projects are long-term dreams unless realistic financing mechanisms can be found that do not overburden the public.
Meanwhile, transportation funds authorized under Regional Measure 3 have been impounded due to a Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association lawsuit along with a private action taken by Randall Whitney in Berkeley claiming the $3 bridge toll increase was allegedly a tax that should have required a 2/3rds vote of the electorate for approval.
As a result, RM3 funds are being held in escrow pending the outcome of continuing litigation. While both lawsuits were rejected by the California Superior Court, they are being combined into a single action headed for the Court of Appeals.
This picture may seem daunting, but a silver lining can be found within the SCTA and its incredibly experienced leader. Over the years this team has done what some may consider near impossible when it comes to finding funding sources, and by working successfully through similar issues involving multiple jurisdictions. Their track record is impressive, and they deserve our support.