Principal Civil Engineer
$7.6 million grant will ensure progress for Corte Madera Creek plan
San Rafael, CA – The Marin County Board of Supervisors has taken the next step toward formally reallocating a $7.6 million California Department of Water Resources grant to the Corte Madera Creek Flood Risk Management Project. The amount represents more than half of the estimated $13.5 million cost of the project’s first phase.
The allocation is part of a process that began in June 2017 with the Ross Valley Flood Control Zone 9 Advisory Board recommending the shift of the state funds from a potential Phoenix Lake project, which was deemed infeasible because of costs and other restrictions associated with the grant, to the planned project. A revised state grant agreement reflecting the change is expected to be presented at the Marin County Flood Control and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors in May.The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is the lead agency for the overall project, which will be separated into two phases. Facilitated by the state funding, the Marin County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, which is the acting local agency in partnership with the project’s federal agency, will continue to work with USACE on the state and federal environmental compliance.
The release of the draft project environmental document is anticipated in June 2018, followed by a 45-day public comment period. Two public meetings will be scheduled, one focused on a project update and open dialog with the community, and another during the public comment period to collect input on potential environmental effects. Information on the project status, schedule and how to provide comments will be shared on the Ross Valley Flood Protection & Watershed Program website. The final environmental document is scheduled to be released in December 2018.
A new California State Rail Plan specifies just that, with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit making its way from Novato to Fairfield-Suisun or near Vallejo then hooking into Capitol Corridor service. The 170-mile Capitol Corridor extends to Auburn and San Jose and links into other transit lines.
“At the state level they are now looking at SMART as a way for connecting communities and they are looking at how to connect SMART to the Capitol Corridor,” said Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager. “They see SMART as part of an entire state system. That’s the significant part of this.”
In part, the state report reads: “Evaluate expansion of rail service from San Rafael, Sonoma, and Napa Counties to Solano County, considering rail service primarily on existing rail alignments with potential connections to the statewide network at Fairfield-Suisun or near Vallejo.”
SMART owns roughly 25 miles of track eastward adjacent to Highway 37 which would help make the connection referenced by the state. Trains would go east from the Ignacio Wye in Novato near Highway 37.
“Going east presents an interesting opportunity,” said Bill Gamlen, SMART’s chief engineer, who would be tasked with figuring out how to get it done.
The rail agency is not sitting idle. SMART has applied for an $836,000 state planning grant to look at the feasibility of sending trains eastward.
“We are very excited to go north, but also start looking to connect east,” Mansourian said. “We see this as a tremendous opportunity that the state has provided us.”
The line wouldn’t be built for some time. It would be 2040 before the connection from Marin and Napa counties to the state network at a Solano County hub would be built.
The plan also calls for half-hourly peak and hourly off peak service between Cloverdale and Larkspur corridor with express bus connections from San Rafael to San Francisco and Richmond by 2040.
Plans to go east could be upset by sea level rise. The report notes SMART’s line San Rafael to Petaluma and its line parallel to Highway 37 are at risk.
The rail plan assesses funding and notes the new state gas tax — which went into place last week — as a funding source along with California’s Cap-and-Trade program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Locally, Marin and Bay Area residents will likely be asked to approve a toll hike for state-owned bridges, including the Richmond-San Rafael, in 2018. If approved, it could provide money for rail in the region. If the toll increase — known as Regional Measure 3 — gets on the June 2018 ballot and is approved, a $3 toll increase would raise $381 million annually. A toll increase could also be phased.
The rail report sees a bright future for trains in the state.
“The creation of a railroad network in California in the 19th century connected us to the rest of the nation with what was then the highest-speed form of transportation,” the report says. “Continued rail investments in the 20th century helped California’s rapid economic development. For the 21st century, California is again poised to put ‘high speed’ back in rail.
“By 2040, Californians will have access to an integrated, state-of-the-art rail system that will revolutionize personal mobility and enhance quality of life.”
There is a conviction among transportation planners and Chambers of Commerce that additional lanes on freeways and highways reduce congestion and are good for business. This is a myth.
Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that adding a lane decreases congestion only temporarily. The new lane stimulates sprawl development with comes with additional cars and trucks. In one or two years the lane is filled, congestion returns to the freeway or highway but now there are more cars to dump onto city streets and interchanges. The ultimate results are predictable: loss of open space, more congestion, more accidents, more pollution, more noise pollution, more climate change and horrendous amounts of money squandered on a non-solution. It is a principle of ecology: if you create more habitat the species will come.
The real solution is better transit, especially rail transit. Addition of more rail transit is less expensive, can carry far more people, is safer, can reduce pollution, uses far less open space, stimulates transit-centered development and housing. With sufficient investment, rail travel can be made more convenient and lest costly to the traveler than driving.
Transit-centered development places housing and commercial businesses within already developed city infrastructure lowering the cost to the cities of installation and maintenance. It allows citizens to access local businesses without a car.
And it is better for tourism. Western Marin and Sonoma Counties are heavily impacted by tourist traffic, especially in the summer months. Climate change caused by autos and trucks (about one half of carbon dioxide emissions in California come from cars and trucks), will disrupt everything that tourists come to experience in Marin and Sonoma Counties: the ocean’s fisheries will deplete due to sea acidification, beaches will flood due to seal level rise, agriculture will suffer due to erratic and extreme weather, forests and cities will burn due to wildfires driven by ferocious winds, and salmon spawning will be diminished by increased flooding.
Yet our political leaders do not seem to have received the message yet. For example, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority/Regional Climate Protection Authority just approved just approved plans that include additional lanes for Highway 101. This is a $6,000,000 quick fix with very dangerous consequences. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s new Bay Area Plan 2040 includes money for additional lanes on other Bay Area freeways. Our elected leaders need to hear for their constituents, “More trains, no more lanes!”