State senator wants to turn Hwy 37 into a toll road because of climate change

California State Senator Bill Dodd wants to turn Highway 37 into a toll road and use the money to raise it up to protect low-lying stretches from rising sea levels. 

A number of lawmakers gathered at Sears Point on Friday to say the change needs to be made as soon as possible. 

When the highway, along the northern edge of San Pablo Bay was built about a century ago, it was a toll road then and may have to become one again if commuters don't want it to succumb to the sea-level rise. The road serves as a critical connection for Sonoma, Solano, Napa and Marin counties. 

Within 20 years, the 40,000 cars and trucks that cross today is expected to increase to 58,000. 

Climatologists say by century's end or sooner, a rising sea level will render it unusable, which is why North Bay Sen. Dodd says it should be fast tracked as a one-way, tolled and raised causeway. 

"The fact is, without taking this step, this highway will not get fixed in our lifetime," Dodd said.

Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan, said without funding, the tentative date for building if there was no funding would be 2088. "All of us will be gone, but the traffic will be worse," he said. 

"We want this in our lifetime and I'm an 80-year-old so come on. We have to get on with this project, this legislation," said Rohnert Park Councilmember Jake Mackenzie. 

Other officials at the proposal announcement said key segments of the road have been closed in recent years and that the risks would only increase with rising sea level. The highway is already unreliable during winter months with the lowest parts vulnerable to flooding. 

"We cannot abandon Highway 37. It has become a critical link for goods and services, businesses and employees, residents and visitors," said Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Goren. 

Advocates say the project would include improvements to the fragile wetlands through which 37 passes. 

"We have less than a decade to restore this crucial landscape so it can play its part in making the region a stronghold for nature and protecting essential human infrastructure," said Eamon O'Byrne with Sonoma Land Trust. 

Dodd's proposed legislation would open the door to state and federal funds, provided people pay the one-way toll. 

"It certainly could be somewhere comparable to the other seven bridges in the Bay Area," Dodd said. 

The single one-way toll gate would be either at the end of the Mare Island Bridge or the Highway 37/121 intersection.