PEL Study Information

State Route (SR) 37, a 21-mile vital transportation link in the region connecting four North Bay counties, is extremely vulnerable to flood-related closures due to sea level rise (SLR) and experiences a high level of congestion. Caltrans, Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), and the four North Bay Area counties are partners in the Resilient SR 37 program working on multiple studies addressing the corridor’s critical flooding, SLR, congestion, ecosystem connectivity, and multimodal issues.

Caltrans completed a comprehensive long-range study – the Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) Study – in December 2022 to identify the best solutions to address the corridor’s deficiencies, considering the corridor’s needs, and the very high sensitivity of the area. Caltrans identified transportation options, determined needs, and considered alternatives within this critical corridor. Following the conclusion of the PEL study, Caltrans will initiate the environmental review process as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)/National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) lead agency.

Incorporating Past Efforts

Caltrans and its partners at MTC and the four counties of Marin, Sonoma, Napa, and Solano, have done extensive work and outreach on various aspects and areas along the SR 37 Corridor. The PEL Study reviewed this information and worked with stakeholders to develop an integrated plan to inform Caltrans’ future environmental

What is a PEL Study?

PEL is a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) initiative that includes outreach to agencies and stakeholders on corridor vision, purpose and need, range of alternatives, and consideration of key environmental issues early in the transportation planning process. A PEL study gathers preliminary data and considers the conceptual level of design, traffic analyses, and evaluation of environmental impacts and results in a study with recommendations for the corridor.   

  • The PEL process is a voluntary, flexible, and collaborative planning process.
  • It examines broad transportation, environmental, community, and economic goals early in the planning process.
  • It begins before NEPA/CEQA environmental processes focused on specific projects take place.
  • It establishes “buy-in” from agencies and stakeholders on corridor vision, purpose and need, range of alternatives, and consideration of key environmental issues.
  • PEL gathers preliminary data and considers conceptual level of design, traffic analyses, and evaluation of environmental impacts.
  • PEL studies also allow agencies to look at the big picture by examining a broad area or corridor.
  • PELs establish long-term transportation visions and set the stage for focused, future projects.
  • Stakeholder involvement is critical to the success of PEL studies. The process encourages working relationships and early agency involvement which enables more effective decision-making.
  • PELs also solicit input and, if possible, support from the public, tribes, elected officials, agencies, and other stakeholders regarding agency transportation decisions.

Why did Caltrans conduct a PEL for SR 37? 

Caltrans District 4 conducted a PEL Study for the SR 37 corridor between US 101 to I-80 to identify a transportation vision, determine needs, and consider alternatives within this critical corridor.  SR 37, a 21-mile vital link in the region’s economy connecting four North Bay counties, is extremely vulnerable to flood-related closures, sea level rise (SLR), and congestion. Caltrans executed this innovative planning effort through the PEL process, the first state highway PEL in California, to bridge the gap between project planning and environmental phases of the corridor, thus streamlining environmental and permitting phases, and reducing long-term project costs, time, and risk to the public by: 

  • Compiling and integrating previous work. 
  • identifying and supplementing data needs. 
  • engaging partners and agencies in a facilitated forum to evaluate alternatives.
  • developing a cohesive implementation plan integrating prioritized transportation projects. And restoration/mitigation considerations. 

What does the PEL Study do?

The PEL Study built on existing work to develop long-term alternatives addressing corridor needs. It resulted in an implementation plan that allows projects to transition into a streamlined environmental review process, addressing the following items:

  1. Corridor Assessment: assess corridor options by using previous and on-going studies and design, including consideration of environmental constraints such as sea level rise, mitigation efforts, and economic factors.
  2. Purpose and Need: identify corridor-wide and site-specific transportation needs and decide on methods for comparing alternatives.
  3. Alternatives Development and Evaluation: develop and evaluate potential alternatives and assess how well these meet the identified needs, including  environmental concerns around sea level rise (SLR) and the San Pablo Baylands.
  4. Implementation Plan: develop how alternatives can be phased, funded, and implemented given competing regional and statewide priorities.

What are the benefits of a PEL study? 

Some of the key benefits of a PEL are realized from examining environmental and community values early in transportation project planning, involving agencies and others as partners in identifying both concerns as well as opportunities for collaboration, and allows more participation in helping shape transportation solutions. 

Another benefit of a PEL Study is improved project delivery timeframes by minimizing potential duplication of planning and other environmental compliance processes, thus creating one cohesive flow of information.  Improved inter-agency relationships will also help to resolve differences on key issues moving from planning through design, and ultimately project implementation.

The PEL Study, and its many supporting studies, provide agencies with tools to design better projects while avoiding and minimizing impacts on communities and natural resources.

Some of the common circumstances where PEL studies may be a benefit: 

  • When a project doesn’t have identified funding, and sequencing is less certain.
  • For extensive corridors where more than one project may be needed and where logical termini are not clear.
  • In complex projects where the PEL can address broad corridor decisions.
  • For highly controversial projects where early consensus can help move project along.
  • Where later NEPA phases will benefit from acceleration: such as the new One Federal Decision constrains timelines, or where a tiered document may affect overall schedule.

How was my input be used?

Caltrans sought input from technical working groups, engaged stakeholders, and members of the public to inform solutions and strategies. Their recommendations and ideas were carried forward to the PEL team for consideration in the study.