Will Marin or Solano commuters pay Highway 37 tolls, and how much? Hard work begins on details after approval
State transportation officials that gave the green light last week for a new toll on State Route 37 have now paved the way for more direction.
The approval provided on May 17 was a simple go-ahead by the California Transportation Commission to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the regional agency tasked with planning, financing and coordinating transit in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.
Now the real work begins for the critical commuter thoroughfare between Marin and Solano counties.
For one thing, the 10-mile stretch identified as a toll section between Mare Island in Vallejo and Sears Point near Sonoma Raceway places the burden on the eastern commuters from cities such as Vacaville, Fairfield and Vallejo traveling to and from Marin County. Marin drivers would not share the commuter price tag, which was identified as the universal rate of $7 but would go up by a buck in two years.
Solano Transportation Authority Executive Director Daryl Halls has attended most meetings on the subject and has witnessed rumblings from two different camps of opposition.
“Some folks are just against tolls. Others say they’re just not equitable,” he said. “Our main issue is equity and to make it good for Solano County.”
The contention lies with many lower income residents, by wealthy Bay Area standards, living out in the eastern county along the Interstate 80 corridor because the housing prices are lower. Marin County’s median property value is consistently about double that of Solano County’s.
“They need to factor income levels,” he said.
The approval came with two amendments: The transportation commission is required to consider toll discounts based on regional, rather than federal income levels. And the commission must update its guidelines for toll hearings.
There’s more to it than that. The direction of travel also comes into play in respect to where the toll will be applied. Transportation officials are still determining whether the toll will be bidirectional, hitting motorists both ways.
Still, transportation officials are trying to close the gap in a budget shortfall to cover the enormous cost associated with the ambitious plans to relieve congestion and lift the road to guard against sea level rise that already causes flooding.
Prone to heavy traffic congestion and flooding, Highway 37 is scheduled to receive short- and long-term improvements with costs that will be passed along to motorists.
A $7 toll for commuters might not go without a bumpy ride, but officials contend it’s necessary to add a lane to relieve congestion and for long-range plans to elevate the highway.
The tolls are seen as a matching incentive to attract state and federal funds.
“Overall, the project would be a benefit for those working or living in Marin and Sonoma. Two lanes in each direction rather than the single lane section would reduce travel time and allow transit options from Solano County to Marin,” Transportation Authority of Marin Executive Director Anne Richman has said.
State and regional transportation officials are proposing the toll to help offset a $430 million price tag on the road widening of the road that overall runs 21 miles between Marin and Solano counties from U.S. Highway 101 to Interstate 80.
The road widening is expected to start in 2025 and finish two years later.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission secured more than $80 million for the initial added lane. It will use the toll to pay back the $100 million raised from selling bonds to help with funding.
That leaves $250 million remaining to improve the highway that carries more than 35,000 vehicles a day. Over half of Highway 37 users are from Solano County and 25% are from Vallejo, and the corridor is the only major alternate evacuation route from the North Bay to the San Rafael–Richmond Bridge.
The project to raise Highway 37 because of flooding caused by torrential rains and tidal surges will cost approximately $6 billion and take 10 to 20 years to complete, according to transportation officials.
The highway was originally designed as a toll road when it was built nearly 100 years ago.
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