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How federal infrastructure bill could impact Petaluma’s push to rebuild roadways

After President Joe Biden signed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill into law earlier this month, local officials are hoping some of those federal dollars trickle into Petaluma, where the city already plans to invest tens of millions of dollars into rebuilding its roadways.

“This is very exciting news for the community,” said Christopher Bolt, director of Public Works and Utilities for the city of Petaluma. “We are confident (that we will) figure out how to get the money and how to put it to work for our community as soon as we possibly can.”

The bill, signed into law Nov. 15, channels billions of dollars toward improving the nation’s bridges, airports, clean water projects, transit systems and more over the next five years.

But with tens of thousands of potential projects in the pipeline statewide, it’s not yet clear how much of that money will wind up in southern Sonoma County.

According to White House documents, there are 1,536 bridges in California and more than 14,220 miles of highway in poor condition. And in the past decade, commute times have increased by 14.6%.

Federal officials have estimated that California would receive about $45 billion for infrastructure funding, but Sonoma County officials still have not confirmed how much of that will be for local use.

“I was really pleased that they passed the infrastructure bill after all those years,” said Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, whose south county district includes Petaluma, Cotati and a portion of Rohnert Park. “We were overdue because the dollars that were passed were essentially in motion through cost of living and the Consumer Price Index, and the amounts needed to be increased to stay in pace with what it costs to build something.”

Petaluma lists 135 capital improvement projects totaling $54 million as part of its five-year plan, Bolt said. Those range from airport projects to community center repairs, to earthquake-safe renovations on the city’s main fire station.

“We need to invest an additional $5 million per year in facilities and infrastructure (before inflation),” Bolt said.

The city’s infrastructure needs were mapped out most recently in the Fiscal and Organizational Sustainability plan, an effort that took place between 2019-20. While Petaluma’s 11 bridges remain in “good” shape, more than half of the city’s streets are listed to be in poor condition, according to the plan, which estimates a total replacement value of at least $247 million if all were to be done.

Other priorities in Petaluma include free fare programs and service upgrades for the city’s transit system, as well as developments like the North McDowell Boulevard Complete Street project, which will focus on reconstruction of the 3.5-mile stretch from Sunrise Parkway to Old Redwood Highway.

“The needs are great, it’s just a matter of figuring out what Petaluma is going to get and through what channel,” Bolt said.

Rabbitt said that even if certain projects are left out of the federally funded infrastructure bill, other local entities exist to make sure those aren’t left unattended. For transportation project needs, organizations like the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Sonoma County Transit Authority are available to assist.

“We handed out nearly $4 billion in the last 18 months alone just to the transit agencies, including Petaluma Transit,” said Rabbitt, who serves on the MTC board. “But hopefully we’ll also see more asphalt being laid in pavement preservation programs.”

Rabbitt added that funding is also available through the One Bay Area Grant program, which currently has $25 million set aside for Sonoma County. In November 2020, voters also passed the Go Sonoma Act, which is set to fund projects throughout the county to improve traffic and road safety. Rabbitt said the legislation is expected to incorporate at least $20 million toward local projects in the coming years.

“A lot of the other dollars will be competitive,” Rabbitt said. “But there will be more dollars in the pot so everyone’s chances increase accordingly.”

In the meantime, officials will continue to collaborate and await the final word on how the federal funding will be distributed.

“We’re definitely paying attention and trying to learn as much as we can,” Bolt said. “But it’s definitely welcome news.”

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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