Caltrans looks at future of Route 1


Caltrans has presented possible strategies to address the increasing difficulty and cost of keeping Highway 1 in Marin and Sonoma Counties open in the face of climate change. 

A new 20-year draft plan the department of transportation released this month provides a “narrative” for the segment of highway, said Josephine Hsai, an associate transportation planner for Caltrans. 

“It helps us to get a better idea for what types of projects to work on. It’s like a wish list of projects, though how they get prioritized depends on the funding the district has, as well as what the [relevant] city and county thinks is most important,” Ms. Hsai said.

The last iteration of the concept report was adopted in 1985, providing guidance between Santa Cruz and Sonoma Counties. The new report projects to 2040. 

Because the stretch is “complex with a number of constraints,” Caltrans said that the draft took longer than expected to complete. 

Representatives from the National Park Service, the Marin and Sonoma County transportation authorities, the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians and others convened at the Red Barn in Point Reyes Station in 2016 to identify assets, issues and opportunities for the route. 

The draft report divides the 110-mile stretch into five sections and highlights the need for particular investment on two of those: the 14-mile stretch between the intersection with Panoramic Highway near Muir Beach and the turnoff for Bolinas, and the 20 miles between Valley Ford and Jenner. There, Caltrans flags the route’s particular vulnerability to sea-level rise, storm damage and coastal erosion. 

To justify the increased cost of maintaining and possibly re-routing the highway, Caltrans proposes further developing tourism. 

The road north to Muir Beach, Stinson Beach and Bolinas is “winding and slow” and “congested in peak season and on weekends,” the report states. Recently, Caltrans undertook two hefty projects there, a $3.4 million endeavor to repair damages from five separate slides that caused long-term closures last year, as well as the clean-out this fall of culverts along the Bolinas Lagoon to prevent winter flooding. 

The section of Highway 1 leading north to Jenner provides an important throughway from Petaluma to Bodega Bay; the report describes the stretch as another hot spot for traffic, though it dissipates after Bodega Bay. On the way to Jenner, the road edges closer to the coast, where erosion has partially closed down the highway at Gleason Beach, another popular destination. 

The report suggests studying the possibility of roadway realignment and the construction of new bridges in the two areas in particular. 

“The strategies could be expensive,” the report states, but could bring both environmental and economic benefits. “[Such work is] brought on by necessity, as the current strategy of focusing on maintenance and emergency repair may not meet the long-term needs of the corridor.”

Road realignments could be significant, Caltrans states, pulled inland from the water and crumbling drop-offs. The draft report states that “in some cases, the old roadway might be used for rest stops or sections of the state’s coastal trail. In most cases, however, the old alignment would need to be restored to its natural condition.”

On the two most problematic stretches—from Panoramic to the Bolinas Lagoon and between Valley Ford and Jenner—the report recommends developing tourist and recreational potential “to help justify the high investment an enhanced roadway would require.” It suggests improvements to pullouts, the coastal trail and bike facilities, and new park-and-ride lots. 

The report also touches on strategies to improve traffic congestion on all the segments. For the West Marin section, the report suggests improving and developing existing Stagecoach transit services to accommodate visitors. 

It also suggests charging for parking at Stinson Beach and examining the viability of a seasonal shuttle from the beach to downtown, as well as restricting parking at Muir Woods National Monument to tour groups and adding a stop at Muir Beach for the Muir Woods shuttle. 

Addressing traffic on another section of Highway 1, between Bolinas and Valley Ford, the report recommends that drivers access the road by Novato Boulevard and Nicasio Valley Road—alternatives routes to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, which it describes as winding and narrow and often inundated with bicyclists. 

To discourage drivers from the boulevard, the report proposed limiting access through Samuel P. Taylor Park with a seasonal user fee. 

Other recommendations for the section to reduce traffic by discouraging daytrips include encouraging “the development of additional overnight accommodations that are convenient to the parks and/or Point Reyes Station.”

The report also describes the effect of rising seas on the segment between Bolinas and Valley Ford, including inundation from Tomales Bay. 

Although the construction of new culverts could help, the report says culverts can limit natural drainage and cause erosion. A longer-term strategy would be to replace existing culverts with bridges, though Caltrans also explains there is relatively lower traffic on this stretch and that doing so may not be cost effective. 

How does the transportation concept report fit into the state’s planning process? Caltrans’s planning system includes four stages: a concept report, a district system management plan, a corridor system management plan and transportation system development plan. 

The concept report “appraises existing conditions and maintenance needs, analyzes imminent population and job growth scenarios, then, in accord with local governments and planning agencies, suggests strategies to cope with both current and future mobility challenges.”

Jack Liebster, the county’s planning manager who spearheads the sea-level adaptation team known as C-SMART, said he sent the report to a host of county departments for review, and would likely provide feedback to the agency. 


To receive this document, or make comments, contact Josephine Hsai at or (510) 622.5905.