Highway 37 toll road plan advances in state Senate

Money from the toll would go toward projects to protect the vital North Bay artery rising sea levels caused by climate change.|

California lawmakers have advanced legislation to make Highway 37 a toll road and tap federal funds for projects to ease congestion and safeguard the vital North Bay artery threatened by rising sea levels.

One of the measures, Senate Bill 1050, would authorize a toll for a section of the highway between Sears Point and Mare Island. The toll could start on or after Jan. 1, 2026. A toll rate has yet to be determined, but officials have estimated a $5 to $6 toll could generate up to $650 million over 20 years.

Transportation planners could use the money to raise part of the 21-mile highway to shield it from the encroaching San Pablo Bay, a project that could cost billions of dollars.

Another bill, SB 1049, would direct $1.9 billion in federal funds to transit projects including along Highway 37, which connects Marin, Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties. The roadway has been forced to close in recent years due to flooding, and experts say it could be underwater in the next two decades.

State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, who introduced the two bills, announced Friday they had passed in the state Senate.

“Creating a dedicated funding stream and leveraging federal dollars is the only way we can afford these critical improvements that will keep this artery working, while reducing daily commute times,” Dodd said in a statement.

With the state Senate’s approval, the bills will now go to the state Assembly for a potential vote. To become law, they would also need a signature from Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In the shorter-term, transportation officials hope to tap some of the money to add another lane to alleviate traffic along the highway, which bottlenecks from two lanes to one lane in each direction. Construction on that project would begin in 2024.

“This is an important step toward keeping Highway 37 open and safe for the tens of thousands of people who travel it each day,” said Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, in a statement. “It will allow us to make much-needed improvements to relieve congestion, get transit going in the corridor and pursue long-term projects to address the effects of climate change on this critical route.”

You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at ethan.varian@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian

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