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State funds will look at ways to curb flooding on Highway 37 in Novato. A more comprehensive solution may be to elevate the roadway, which runs along Napa County's southern edge, according to planners.

Marin County will receive $130,000 to study flooding issues on Highway 37 — money courtesy of the new gas tax.

Marin drivers are still dealing with the sticker shock of a new 12-cent-per-gallon gas tax that took effect Nov. 1, but some of that revenue is already flowing back to the county for transportation needs.

The Transportation Authority of Marin was awarded gas tax dollars to “develop an action plan to address ongoing and projected flooding issues from increased storm flows and sea level rise in the east-west transportation corridor through the Novato Baylands,” according to the California Transportation Commission, which awarded the grant Thursday.

“It’s a pool of planning money to look at the Novato Creek watershed and levee system,” said Dianne Steinhauser, executive director of the Transportation Authority of Marin. “We had to close the Marin section of Highway 37 for three weeks earlier this year and that wasn’t even a big storm. How do we prevent that from happening again? What do we need to do out there?”

Concurrently, the transportation agency is looking at how to raise the roadway to eliminate flooding. About 40,000 vehicles a day use Highway 37, records show.

Caltrans (California Department of Transportation) made more than $5 million in emergency repairs and upgrades at the approaches to the Novato Creek Bridge, where a private levee breach occurred during king tides and steady rains, combining to flood the highway. But Caltrans has indicated that Highway 37 could suffer further flooding and potential closures in the area.

Outside of the Marin segment, much of the road is at risk for submerging under a predicted sea-level rise of 6 feet by the end of the century. That has prompted a hard look at creating an elevated causeway for Highway 37 along the Sonoma and Solano segments.

A consultant is studying the financing of Highway 37 improvements for Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties for the 21-mile highway. A Highway 37 toll of up to $7 would be necessary to expedite major flood-prevention projects on the road, a consultant has told transportation officials.

The Marin transportation agency actually asked for $411,000 for the planning work for the Novato area, but will find other dollars to complete the work, Steinhauser said. The Marin money was among the first planning grants funded through the gas tax — also known as Senate Bill 1 — to support local agency efforts to plan more sustainable communities, reduce transportation-related greenhouse gases and adapt for the effects of climate change, according to Caltrans.

It’s all fueled by the gas tax, which is now 30 cents per gallon with the addition of the 12 cents that kicked in last month.

During this week’s California Transportation Commission meeting, nearly $32 million in grants were awarded. In total, the gas tax plan will provide more than $270 million in planning grants for local communities over the next decade.

“The idea is to get the money into the hands of local agencies to deal with these types of issues,” said Bob Haus, Caltrans spokesman.

Among the grants awarded were nearly $25 million in sustainable community grants to 43 local and regional transportation and land use planning projects. These planning grants aim to achieve the state’s greenhouse gas reduction targets. The gas tax provides $25 million annually to the grant program, which is awarded both competitively and by formula to eligible projects.

“These grants will provide much needed funding to support the efforts to improve transportation in local communities and plan for a future impacted by climate change,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty in a statement. “In addition to the many projects already accelerated thanks to SB 1, this is just one more example of how we’re committed to rebuilding California.”

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