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Changes in funding for North Bay roads

• New funding from state Senate Bill 1 will be a significant benefit to California’s highways and local roads.

• SB 1 is transformational funding for transportation that is structured to address deferred maintenance and maintaining the road system for both the short a long term.

• A companion measure being considered to address growth and large regional projects is Regional Measure 3 – a proposed toll increase that could be before voters in 2018.

• Regional Measure 3 will help finish Highway 101 widening and get work started on Highway 37.

• At the local level, help is still needed to ensure local matching funds are available to compete well for state and regional money.

California gas-tax increases set to start in November will raise an estimated $5.4 billion a year statewide for 10 years, a robust increase in spending coming at a time when work to finish the expansion of Highway 101 in Marin and Sonoma counties and repairing neighborhood streets and bridges is critically needed, Sonoma County Transportation Authority Executive Director Suzanne Smith said Wednesday.

Addressing about 250 people at the morning meeting of the Sonoma County Alliance in Santa Rosa, Smith said the tax increase was part of state Senate Bill 1 signed by Governor Brown in April. Voters are set to face a question in November whether to protect the new funds for use only as intended “in perpetuity,” but voters may also face a proposal to repeal the increase, Smith said.

“Everyone wants this money to be spent efficiently and effectively,” she said.

SB 1 has two oversight provisions to achieve this, Smith said. There would be a new Office of Audits and Investigations, with a governor-appointed special inspector general, who will conduct an annual audit. That would be coupled with oversight of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and public hearings.

It would be “ensuring that the primary focus of Caltrans will be on delivery and transparency — doing what they say they will do,” Smith said.

The overall infrastructure improvement plan calls for Caltrans to repair or replace some 17,000 miles of pavement, 55,000 culverts and drains, 7,700 signals, signs and sensors, and work on 500 bridges.

Some $2.5 billion of this total is earmarked for congestion relief, such as in the Novato Narrows and along the 21-mile Highway 37 corridor; $3 billion for trade corridor improvements, $7.5 billion for improved transit and rail service, and $1 billion for pedestrian and cyclist safety projects.

For Sonoma County, $4 million would be available for upgrades to local roads in 2017, $10 million in 2018 and $14 million per year thereafter — with a 50-50 split of these funds between pavement and maintenance operations.

She said Santa Rosa can expect to receive $4 million year. Smith added that the money will go straight to this city after a list of projects is submitted for review.

In addition to statewide funds, $20 million will be contributed from Sonoma County for Highway 101 alone. She said “We will know by spring if we will receive another $70 million targeted for this expansion project from SB 1 funds.”

The new revenue comes from a combination of new user-related taxes and fees plus savings. SB 1 includes a 12-cent-a-gallon gasoline excise-tax increase, a 20-cent-a-gallon diesel fuel excise tax and a 4 percent diesel sales tax starting in November. New registration fees for electric vehicles will be assessed, ranging from $25 to $175 based on vehicle value and beginning in January 2018. A zero-emissions fee of $100 a year starts in 2020.

This will be the first gasoline tax increase since the early 1990s.

In addition, Caltrans will also identify $100 million in staffing and project delivery savings through improved efficiency measures.

Smith expects SMART to also seek SB 1 funding for local bus-bridge operations and for bike and pedestrian projects.

Bridge-toll increase proposal

Another funding proposal, if approved by voters, could also add much-needed funds for North Bay transportation projects. Backers of Regional Measure 3 (RM 3) propose up to a $3 bridge toll increase phased in over time for all but the Golden Gate Bridge, along with a financial incentive for Fastrack users.

Changes in funding for North Bay roads

• New funding from state Senate Bill 1 will be a significant benefit to California’s highways and local roads.

• SB 1 is transformational funding for transportation that is structured to address deferred maintenance and maintaining the road system for both the short a long term.

• A companion measure being considered to address growth and large regional projects is Regional Measure 3 – a proposed toll increase that could be before voters in 2018.

• Regional Measure 3 will help finish Highway 101 widening and get work started on Highway 37.

• At the local level, help is still needed to ensure local matching funds are available to compete well for state and regional money.

The idea is currently making its way through the California legislature. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is considering whether to place RM 3 on the June 2018 ballot. Only a simple majority vote would be required for passage. Media reports suggest it would raise $5 billion over 25 years.

For the first time, Sonoma County will be eligible for funding. Under the RM 3 proposal, Smith said, funds received would be allocated for the following projects:

• $125 million for widening Highway 101 through “the narrows” between Marin and Sonoma counties.

• $150 million for Highway 37 improvements.

• $70 million for SMART, extending service to Windsor and the San Rafael Transit Center.

• Bus transit funding.

• Bay trail and regional trail funding.

Extending Measure M in Sonoma County

Measure M, the quarter-cent local sales tax for transportation approved by Sonoma County voters in 2004, is set to expire in 2024.

Smith said a decision should be made in 2018 by voters whether to extend this tax so the county can continue to have local funds to leverage SB 1 and RM 3 resources and provide funds for roads, to expand bike, pedestrian and bus programs, and to explore ways to accommodate new technology into the transportation infrastructure.

For example, one segment of Highway 101 in Petaluma is not fully funded as yet, while the environmental and design work is finished and the right of way is in process. Two more segments of 101 in Marin also remain to be completed. The portion of this highway from the Petaluma Bridge to the Marin County line is fully funded with HOV lanes to open in 2019.

Highway 37

Congestion issues on Highway 37, which runs 21 miles along the northern shore of San Pablo Bay, connecting Highway 101 to Interstate 80, continue to look for one of four counties to take ownership for solving the problem, she said.

“There are congestion and flooding issues and not a lot of resources to fix these problems, since Caltrans is engaged in managing operations and not looking at capacity issues. Today people are looking at short-term, mid- and long-term fixes that involve data collection and an assessment of capacity restraints. The first assessment is expected in September followed by more details in March 2018.”

Drainage systems need to be improved along with levee and shoreline upgrades, and potentially raising the roadbed (or having an elevated causeway) to cope with sea level rise vulnerability and the prospect of permanent inundation. There are also concerns related to congestion at the intersection with State Route 121 and at Lakeview Highway.

Smith said from 1 to 7 p.m. on weekdays it can take 100 minutes for eastbound traffic to traverse this section and 50 minutes for westbound traffic to do the same starting at 5 a.m. When there is no traffic, the average travel time is only about 20 minutes.

“This is an environmentally sensitive wetlands area with tidal marshes and natural habitat. A living levee plan is being considered that would involve a mild, natural slope that would allow for habitat and wildlife transitions. Such a plan would reduce wave run-up and lessen or eliminate the need for armoring,” she added. “The goal is to draft phased improvements and to identify priority segments of this corridor to address.”

She said instead of driving only 21 miles, alternative routes available to bypass the Highway 37 corridor through the wetlands would total 44 miles if driving from Highway 12 to 116, and 43 miles if driving from the Richmond Bridge to Interstate 580. If Highway 37 were to be closed, she predicted this would have severe congestion impact on interstates 80 and 580 and highways 101, 116, 121, 12 and 29.

CORRECTION: The planned November state ballot measure would ask voters to protect gas-tax revenue from use for purposes other than transportation projects. The story originally said the measure would seek to make the tax increase permanent.