Council again eyes crosstown connector options

The decades-long debate over where and how to connect east and west Petaluma continued in this City Council workshop.|

Petaluma City Council members on Monday further explored plans for future roadways that would connect the east and west sides of the city in hopes that the connectors would ease traffic congestion and timing for crosstown travel, a concept that has been explored for more than 50 years in Petaluma.

In a “crosstown connector workshop” meeting on Monday, Oct. 10, a mix of support and disapproval was heard from both the public and the City Council for two major crosstown connector projects still seeking final approval. One, the controversial Rainier Crosstown Connector, would connect McDowell Boulevard at Rainier Avenue to Petaluma Boulevard North. The other, the Caulfield Crosstown Connector, would construct a movable bridge similar to the D Street Bridge over the Petaluma River, extending Caulfield Lane to Petaluma Boulevard South.

“Connection and connectedness are hallmarks of community,” said Christopher Bolt, Petaluma’s director of Public Works and Utilities. “Fostering togetherness, safety, equity and resiliency are very important to us.”

In the workshop, Bolt and city staff laid out updated plans for the two crosstown connector projects, which the 2023 elected City Council will be set to vote on further down the line.

The Rainier crosstown connector project would go under Caltrans’s Highway 101 Rainier overcrossing and over the Petaluma River and SMART tracks. The Rainer concept has for decades caused back-and-forth debate, and the last time it was voted on was in 2004, when a ballot initiative directing the city to complete the connector gained 72 percent voter approval.

Meanwhile, the Caulfield crosstown connector would incorporate pedestrian and bike paths into its model, and would provide for direct bike access to Novato. Council members like D’Lynda Fischer and Kevin McDonnell touted these features for its forward-looking approach, and pushed for more focus on crosstown connectors for active transportation, like the Lynch Creek Trail.

The Rainer connector ”just doesn’t make any sense in 2022 with our current (environmental) goals,” Fischer said.

Besides cost, a major concern the Rainier crosstown connector has brought up in recent years is its effect on natural resources and possible damage to the floodplain in the midtown area.

“There’s going to be concrete in a lot of places where there is permeable stuff. That is going to increase flood risk that is already increasing,” said Vice Mayor Dennis Pocekay, who called the Rainier connector the “development of yesterday.”

“It should be taken off our list,” he said.

But council members Dave King and Mike Healy supported both projects, saying they would greatly reduce traffic impacts in the city.

“I think the community needs and expects both of these crosstown connectors to remain in our plans and to be pursued,” Healy said.

According to the presentation by city staff, the Caulfield project is currently estimated to cost $44.8 million for its “preferred” option, which includes pedestrian and bicycle improvements. The Rainier project is estimated to cost $92.3 million for its four-lane option, or $64 million for its two-lane option, after accounting for the $10 million already invested in that project. Money to fund the projects would come from traffic impact fees, staff said.

Cost of the two projects remained at the center of speculation for many, with some council members worried that taking such large chunks out of available funds would take away focus from other city projects.

“We may need them both but we can’t afford them both. We can’t achieve them both,” said Mayor Teresa Barrett.

Should they be approved, the Caulfield connector could be completed no sooner than 2025, while the Rainier connector would take until at least 2027, city staff said.

Note: This story was edited from its original version to reflect more accurate cost information.

Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at amelia.parreira@arguscourier.com or 707-521-5208.

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