California State Route 37 (SR 37) is an important regional highway, connecting the northern California San Francisco Bay Area sub-regions. SR 37 is one of the most congested Bay Area highways and is the most vulnerable highway to sea level rise. The highway traverses roughly twenty miles of low-lying former and existing tidal marsh along San Francisco Bay's northern shoreline, a Pacific Flyway stopping ground and home to listed species. To balance the needs of traffic congestion relief, sea level rise and flooding adaptation, and ecological resilience, a team of planners, engineers, and ecologists have broken traditional barriers to collaborate outside of the box to create multiple options for going forward. The SR 37 corridor has become a focal point for transportation planning and climate resilience in the Bay Area. It is the largest project of its kind in California and potentially the United States.
The project began in 2010 as a joint project of UC Davis and Caltrans under the Strategic Highway Research Program 2 (SHRP2) to develop a sea level rise adaptation plan for the highway, following EcoLogical (FHWA) principles and including stakeholders. Ultimately, over 200 organizations and individuals included themselves in this joint assessment and planning, which entered a second phase in 2013, funded by Caltrans. During this second phase, the sense of urgency increased as stakeholders learned more about sea level rise and realized that there was no "normal" way to adaptively plan transportation to meet this challenge. Ultimately, we developed a series of ecological assessments, engineered designs and cost estimates for raising the highway, but a sense of consensus eluded us.
In 2016, leveraging the Highway 37 Stewardship Study, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and four north bay counties of Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano continued to analyze the corridor to address current traffic congestion, flooding, sea level rise, and environmental sensitivity, and established the "Resilient SR 37" corridor program. An integrated corridor design was developed to address these issues through a collaborative process. Over a year-long series of meetings and workshops, MTC worked with an environmental technical working group of transportation planners, engineers, ecologists, regulatory agencies, environmental organizations, and others to ensure a multi-benefit cohesive corridor vision.
In this presentation we walk through a chronological account of SR 37 planning and describe the benefits and lessons learned. We highlight how the project started with the UC Davis and Caltrans Highway 37 Stewardship Study and how MTC's Resilient SR 37 is breaking the traditional transportation project development paradigm to develop a major infrastructure project that fits within the unique, sensitive, landscape of north San Francisco Bay. This project can serve as a model for climate resiliency and ecological integration in transportation corridor design.