State Sen. Bill Dodd revives Highway 37 toll road plan
State Sen. Bill Dodd is reviving his pre-pandemic proposal to turn Highway 37 into a toll road in order to raise funds that would be used to protect the vital North Bay artery from encroaching San Pablo Bay waters.
On Tuesday, the Napa Democrat announced he will reintroduce Senate Bill 1050. Originally proposed in Jan. 2020, it was withdrawn following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic two months later.
If state lawmakers approve Dodd’s proposal, it would mean drivers will have to pay to travel between Sears Point and Mare Island.
Dodd added that he’ll introduce a second measure, Senate Bill 1049, which would earmark $1.9 billion in federal funds for transportation projects, including Highway 37, that need to withstand the effects of climate change.
Stretching along San Pablo Bay through Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties, Highway 37, experts believe, could be underwater in 20 years.
“We must take action if we want to preserve this vital link to jobs and family,” Dodd said in a statement. “This legislation creates a dedicated funding stream and leverages federal dollars, which is the only way we can afford these critical improvements that will keep this artery working, while reducing daily commute times.”
The toll bill could go before lawmakers — and possibly Gov. Gavin Newsom for final approval — by the end of the year. Officials would then need to determine the toll amount, the toll plaza locations and other potential projects needed to save the 21-mile roadway.
Prone to flooding, it has even been affected by inclement weather. In 2017, it had to be shut down for several weeks due to heavy rainfall.
There have been a number of efforts to fix the troubled highway.
Last month, Caltrans presented a series of alternate routes that could be considered for the highway, which links Highway 101 to Interstate 80, which is traveled by about 40,000 vehicles daily.
Short-term initiatives include the Sears Point to Mare Island Improvement Project, a widening effort that would reduce congestion on a 10.4-mile stretch of Highway 37 in Sonoma and Napa counties.
A toll, if approved, also would make it easier for regional governments to acquire federal funding for Highway 37 improvements, said Solano Transportation Authority Executive Director Daryl Halls.
“Right now, we hardly have any dollars for this project,” Halls said, adding that approval of a toll would be “an important first step.”
Dodd previously estimated a $5 to $6 toll could generate up to $650 million over 20 years. This week, his staff said that projection still stands.
Cynthia Murray, president of the North Bay Leadership Council, which advocates for better education, infrastructure and governance to maintain quality of life in the North Bay, said Wednesday that she supported Dodd’s proposal in 2020 and continues to support it.
Most Highway 37 drivers, she added, would be willing to pay a toll to benefit this “huge commuter artery.”
Recalling the roadway’s 2017 closure Murray said, “People were absolutely frustrated and it was a huge impact economically.”
You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at email@example.com. On Twitter @colin_atagi