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California bill would convert Highway 37 to tolls to fund upgrades to critical North Bay commute, transportation link

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A bill that would create a tolling authority to raise capital for necessary improvements for Highway 37, a congested east-west link also known for flooding, was introduced Friday in the state Legislature.

The bill, by state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, hopes to generate revenue from tolls and then use the money to leverage state and federal funding sources to complete the needed overhaul. How that would work, and what the design of the improved roadway would look like, are yet to be decided.

“The time in now to improve this essential artery that connects us to jobs and supports our economy,” Sen. Dodd stated in the announcement. “If we don’t act, increased traffic and sea level rise will make an already bad situation simply unpassable. Without a dedicated revenue source, the problem won’t be fixed in many of our lifetimes. I introduced this bill to increase capacity for today’s commuters and make the route sustainable for future generations.”

Highway 37 runs along the northern edge of San Pablo Bay. The senator’s office estimated 40,000 cars and trucks cross it each day. That number is expected to increase nearly 50 percent, to 58,000 vehicles, over the 20 years. “At the same time, a recent UC Davis study found that sea level rise will make the highway impossible to use by the end of the century, with serious periods of flooding expected annually in the coming decades.”

The proposal is supported by stakeholders in Sonoma, Solano, Napa and Marin counties.

“The shores of the northern San Pablo Bay are the last large expanse of wetlands left in the Bay Area,” said Sonoma Land Trust Executive Director Eamon O’Byrne. “Protecting and restoring these wetlands offers a crucial and urgent opportunity to safeguard critical wildlife habitat and buffer the impacts of sea level rise on our vital infrastructure. Sonoma Land Trust looks forward to continuing the collaboration around the redesign of Highway 37 and applauds Senator Dodd for his leadership.”

“Highway 37 is the lifeline of the North Bay for commuters and the movement of goods,” said Cynthia Murray, president and CEO of North Bay Leadership Council. “We applaud Sen. Dodd’s introduction of a bill to allow tolling so that much-needed improvements can be made. The ability to raise funding is key to the economic health and public safety of the North Bay.”

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