Caltrans says Highway 37 could fully reopen by Wednesday afternoon
As crews continued work Tuesday on a short-term fix to water-logged westbound lanes of Highway 37, state transportation authorities announced the roadway could fully reopen as soon as noon Wednesday, six days after it was closed in one direction by flooding from last week’s storm.
The step comes after a round-the-clock effort by state and local agencies to curb creek flows and tidewater just east of Highway 101 and newly armor the key North Bay commuter route against another round of flooding.
Last week’s heavy rainfall and runoff breached a nearby levee in two places on the highway’s south side, undermining parallel railroad tracks and unleashing the equivalent of a shallow reservoir into a nearby pasture and the low-lying western lanes.
Eastbound traffic on Highway 37 was confined to one lane Tuesday so bladed dump trucks could push aside standing water and pumps could continue draining the deluge from the westbound lanes. Caltrans said traffic controls would remain in place for the flooded area, west of Atherton Avenue, as long as work crews require.
“A significant amount of progress was achieved over the weekend,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg. “Pumping is continuing today. The goal is to have Highway 37 open by Wednesday.”
Initial estimates had the westbound lanes reopening no earlier than Friday, a timeline that was advanced to mid-week by Caltrans over the weekend. Highway 37 traverses 21 miles across the top of San Pablo Bay from Novato to Vallejo and sees as many as 45,000 vehicles per day.
The flooding marks the second time in two years that the troubled roadway has been closed by winter storms. In early 2017, a record level of rainfall flooded an adjacent 100-acre field and resulted in 27 days of full or partial closure.
Northwestern Pacific Railroad, which hauls freight along the adjacent rail line washed out by rain-swollen Novato Creek, began filling a 14-foot hole in the section of breached levee with rock and dirt Tuesday. The company’s co-owner said crews planned to patch another smaller breach on state land just west of levee breach that took out the railroad tracks.
“It’s not a permanent fix, but it should at least solve the problem for the time being,” said NWP Co.’s Doug Bosco, who is also an investor in Sonoma Media Investments, owner of The Press Democrat. “I don’t know if anything is going to be a permanent fix. We can certainly get the highway open. But we don’t have control over Mother Nature, and right now Mother Nature has a very, very strong influence over our activities.”
The rail right of way and tracks are owned by Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit and the fix to the levee is likely to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Bosco said.
Marin County last week declared a local state of emergency over the storm damage, a move that officials hope would offset some of the costs.
But the price of rebuilding the entire route, seen as highly vulnerable to sea level rise, has estimated at more than $3 billion.
“The price tag is going to be astronomical,” North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman said Wednesday in a meeting with The Press Democrat’s editorial board. “We’ll be working on this over time.”
Huffman, D-San Rafael, indicated that funding for Highway 37 could be included in an infrastructure bill that is gaining traction in Congress this year.
“No community can step up and fix Highway 37 on its own,” he said. He added that the project would require “a good old-fashioned infusion of federal dollars,” but said it was too soon to say how much it could be.
President Donald Trump and leaders of both the Senate and House have described infrastructure spending as a top priority, and Huffman said a House bill would have to emerge by Labor Day to have a chance of approval in the Senate.
About 11 miles to the south, Caltrans crews were scheduled to begin work Tuesday night on replacing an expansion joint on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge after falling concrete forced a nine-hour closure earlier this month. A temporary metal patch was put in place, but last week’s storms delayed a permanent fix.
The overnight work is expected to be finished over two weeks and close all but one lane in each direction between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. Caltrans estimated the cost of the bridge work at $300,000.
Staff writer Guy Kovner contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @kfixler.