Rising tides: Regional leaders look to shore up Bay Area’s transportation network
By Erin Baldassari
East Bay Times
21 February 2017
Photo courtesy Robert Tong/Marin Independent Journal
By 2050, the toll plazas at three of the Bay Area’s four major bridges, including the Bay Bridge, could be underwater during severe storms. Railroad tracks near the Suisun Bay between Interstate 680 and Port Chicago also would flood intermittently. Bay water would cover the runways at the Oakland and San Francisco airports, and in the South Bay, the campuses of Facebook and Google could find themselves regularly flooded.
If projections about the impacts of climate change hold true, strong storms and rising tides will be the new normal for Bay Area residents, resulting in devastating impacts to the region’s critical transportation infrastructure if nothing is done to protect low-lying areas. As if getting to and from work in the region’s recent storms weren’t hard enough, climate change will bring even more challenges, from failed levees to backed-up sewers.
But, two nascent efforts are addressing these challenges and looking for solutions. A three-year $1.2 million study, funded by Caltrans and the Bay Area Toll Authority will focus on the region’s transportation network, and a roughly 15-month, $4.6 million design competition funded by the Rockefeller Foundation will select 10 at-risk sites to implement solutions that lessen the impacts of climate change and rising tides.
The three-year study will examine the ways the Bay Area’s 7 million residents get around, from walking and cycling the Bay Trail to bus systems, interstate highways, bridges, trains and ferries.
The study also will examine the communities that could be stranded or suffer property loss in the event of massive flooding. Ultimately, the agencies hope to have a much better understanding of which parts of the region’s transportation network and which communities will be most affected by water levels as they rise.
If this winter’s storms that wreaked havoc on the Bay Area are an indication of what is to come, Bay Area leaders need to act quickly, said Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning and Urban Design Kristina Hill.
“The flooding we saw this (month) will be much worse when the sea level rises,” she said. “It’s like a preview; the maps we have predicting future sea level rise are really underestimates because they don’t include all the rain coming from the hillsides.”