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Governor Orders Statewide Review of Caltrans

Assemblymember Marc Levine calls for review to include look at agency's handling of netting under Petaluma River Bridge which activists say has killed hundreds of birds

Governor Jerry Brown has ordered a system-wide review of Caltrans aimed at assessing the transportation agency’s performance, communications and management.  

The review will occur over the next seven months and be conducted by the State Smart Transportation Initiative, a group housed at University of Wisconsin, Madison.   

According to Gov. Brown, the primary focus of the review is to "take a fresh look at the agency" as part of the reorganization of various transportation-related departments into one agency.

But Assemblymember Marc Levine, who represents Petaluma and Marin County in Sacramento, has asked that the state also look at the Caltrans decision to put netting under the Petaluma River Bridge which has killed numerous birds.

“Caltrans is deserving of this independent review,” Levine said while testifying before the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Resources and Transportation in May. “Caltrans is responsible for maintaining the nation’s busiest highway system.  It is critical that Caltrans operates efficiently and effectively, maintains safe roadways, and has the trust of the communities it serves.”     

Levine asked that before any work on the Petaluma portion of the Marin Sonoma Narrows project begins, that Caltrans meet with local conservation and community organizations who have expertise in migratory birds, as well as regulatory agencies, to determine “the most appropriate means of achieving full compliance” with state and federal laws that protect migratory birds.  

On May 17, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Madrone, Marin and Golden Gate Audobon societies and Native Songbird Care filed a federal lawsuit against Caltrans as well as the U.S. Department of Transportation, arguing that the netting placed under Highway 101 at Petaluma Boulevard South has resulted in the deaths of many cliff swallows, a federally protected migratory bird.  

Caltrans says it placed the netting in order to prevent the birds from nesting under the bridge. Roadwork cannot proceed if cliff swallow nests are found under the bridge.  

“The Marin Sonoma Narrows project will bring much needed relief to traffic congestion (and) North Bay commuters are eager for the project to move forward, Levine said in a prepared statement. 

“However, netting used by Caltrans to prevent birds from nesting on the Petaluma River and Lakeville Highway bridges has inadvertently killed numerous federally protected birds.  Now local conservation and animal protection groups have filed suit against Caltrans.  Consequently, the use of netting has placed the entire project in jeopardy.”    

Levine said that the review would help Caltrans to avoid similar problems in the future.   Members of the independent review group will interview Caltrans staff and people outside the department before providing a written review in about seven months.

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