MEGA Project The Future of The Napa Valley Vine Trail


by Maureen Gaffney

Major transportation artery. Wildlife refuge. International car racing venue. Wetland habitat. Rail corridor. Winery. Regional trail. These and many more disparate descriptors all apply to State Route 37, a 21-mile highway connecting U.S. Route 101 in Marin County to Interstate 80 in Solano. SR 37 traverses Sonoma County mid-route, and while it merely grazes a remote corner of Napa County, the connections it provides into the Napa’s transportation network make it fundamentally important. Highway 37 is a major artery connecting the North Bay. It is sinking, flooding, and increasingly failing in its core function as a transportation facility, with one estimate showing 10 weeks of delay for a daily commuter over the period of a year. Wow.

So what’s this got to do with the Napa Valley Vine Trail? While it is true that SR 37 is not a part of the Vine Trail route, it is a part of the San Francisco Bay Trail alignment, and will connect directly to the Bay/Vine Trail in Vallejo which is currently on track for groundbreaking in Spring of 2023 and completion by mid-2024. Caltrans and the myriad transportation agencies involved in planning for a new/rehabilitated highway 37 have landed on an elevated roadway (causeway) design that will allow the marsh to continue its landward migration fueled by the sea level rise that promises to inundate the highway by 2050, include a bicycle/pedestrian pathway along its entire length, accommodate projected traffic, and potentially include SMART commuter and freight rail services.

As one might imagine, the cost of such an undertaking is substantial. Current estimates range from $6 to $8 billion, with a timeline that causes additional heartache—20 years. 2042. And that’s probably optimistic. For the commuters devoting 10 weeks of their year to a traffic jam, that’s far, far too long to wait. An interim congestion relief project that would protect against flooding and widen key segments of the roadway is under consideration, but also carries a hefty price tag, has environmental impacts, and is still not soon enough for those idling behind the wheel.

The silver lining in all of this doomy-gloomy is that a major gap in the Bay Trail will be closed as part of this mega-project, and important connections to the VINE TRAIL from Marin and Sonoma Counties will—one day—be seamless and provide an entirely new view of the beautiful San Pablo bay and marshlands that has to date only been viewed from a car window. And maybe a stopped car window at that.