Tab for Highway 37 flood repairs hits $2M as next big Northern California storm arrives
Emergency repair work to reopen State Highway 37 last week after floodwaters forced closure of the westbound lanes for six days has already cost roughly $2 million, creating fortifications that will soon be tested by another major storm drenching the North Bay.
The highway, which also saw one eastbound lane closed for stretches while crews cleared the deluge of water and repaired damage to the roadway and neighboring rail tracks, reopened fully last Wednesday for the morning commute.
After a similar, 27-day closure in early 2017, the road’s vulnerability to rising water during winter storms is growing tiresome for many who rely on Highway 37, which skirts the northern shores of San Pablo Bay while connecting southern Sonoma County to Vallejo and points east.
“The fire drill that we continue to have each winter is simply unacceptable,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg. “I think I speak for all the agencies when I say that we need a longer-term step advanced.”
The round-the-clock recovery effort kicked off Feb. 15, one day after the heavy rain subsided, when officials from a variety of agencies met in a field along the flooded road to draw up plans to limit Novato Creek from overflowing onto the highway.
The group — which included Caltrans, the public works departments of Marin County and city of Novato, Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWP), teams from engineering contractors Ghilotti Bros. of San Rafael and Ghilotti Construction Company of Santa Rosa and the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit commuter line — worked in earnest to create a temporary access road, short-term levees to stop the tidal flow and a way for crews to begin pumping water off the critical commuter artery.
“We got together on the side and my question was, ‘Forget about who caused what to whom and who’s going to pay for the cost, what do we do as engineers?’” said Farhad Mansourian, general manager of SMART, which owns the nearby railroad corridor washed out by the Feb. 14 rains. “In the next two hours, we basically came up with a design of what needs to be done. Everybody did terrific work.”
“Our team repaired two levees that collapsed during the heavy rains that started February 13,” said Dale Mahoney, area manager for Ghilotti Construction. “We installed flood gates in this region two years ago to help with water control, but a much more permanent remedy is definitely required.”
Crews from Marin County Public Works and Ghilotti Bros. addressed flooding that broke through a levee and embankments undermined NWP tracks leaving them hanging in the air. NWP leases the land from SMART. A temporary fix was made, but a more permanent solution is needed.
Mario Ghilotti, the son of CEO Michael Ghilotti, was the on-site project manager for this operation in charge of a team of 75 workmen including four supervisors.
“We first had to build a 50-yard temporary, all-weather road that included spanning a creek from SR 37 to reach the failed levee by the NWP tracks,” said Mario Ghilotti. “
Two years ago, this same 1,500-foot section of SR 37 flooded twice -- closing the highway for nearly a month.
Ghilotti Bros. was contracted by Caltrans to repair broken levees near Novato Creek and perform follow up work.. Westbound lanes on SR 37 were closed for less than a week starting February 14 and reopened at 7 a.m. on the 20th.