Elevated State Route 37 a Major Opportunity for Wetlands

By Virginia Reinhart

On February 2nd,  World Wetlands Day, the Sierra Club submitted a letter to the California Department of Transportation stating our concerns about short-sighted plans for State Route 37, the 21-mile highway running along the northern shore of San Pablo Bay, linking Novato with Vallejo. Everyone involved agrees that rapidly advancing sea level rise, as well as worsening traffic congestion, means that adaptation is urgently needed. Done properly, the project could enable tidal marsh restoration on a historic scale, with enormous benefits for wildlife and climate, through carbon sequestration. Elevating the roadway – and removing the existing highway that currently acts as a levee – would allow natural tidal flows to feed a vast area of existing or potential wetlands. And, as sea levels rise and inundate existing marshes, places like San Pablo Bay where wetlands can slowly migrate inland with the rising water level will be crucial to the survival of wildlife.

Unfortunately, some stakeholders in the responsible transit agencies have argued for “band-aid” projects like lane widening at the elevation of the current flood-prone roadway. Rather than spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a short-lived interim project whose construction would disturb acres of wetlands only to demolish and disturb sensitive habitat ten to fifteen years later, the Sierra Club believes we should proceed directly to the planning and phased construction of an elevated State Route 37. 

The Sierra Club will continue to engage in this planning process to ensure that we don’t miss out on the opportunity to build climate-resilient infrastructure while simultaneously capitalizing on the largest wetland-migration opportunity on the West Coast.

Virginia Reinhart is the SF Bay Chapter Director.
Water levels rising very close to the State Route 37 highway.

High tide at CA 37 at Tolay Creek (San Pablo Bay). Photo by CBDawson on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).