Petaluma celebrates groundbreaking of new SMART station

“People around the country need to know about SMART,” said Toks Omishakin, California Secretary of Transportation. “It’s absolutely an example of how to do transit right.”|

Local and state leaders gathered with Petaluma community members Thursday afternoon as Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit officials celebrated the long-awaited milestone of breaking ground on the city’s second train station.

The noon groundbreaking ceremony took place at Corona Road and North McDowell Boulevard, where the new Petaluma North Station is set to be built starting this month, with an expected completion in late 2024.

“Our gathering today represents more than just a ceremonial turning of the soil — it symbolizes an unwavering commitment to our community, for our leaders (and) partners to create a more connected and prosperous North Bay,” said Eric Lucan, the SMART board chair. “SMART’s mission is to connect communities, and that is exactly what we’re doing here today with this station.”

A number of elected leaders and other officials were present, including all of Petaluma’s council members, Mayor Kevin McDonnell and a number of local staff, California Senate Majority Leader Mike McGuire, Assembly members Damon Connolly and Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, state Secretary of Transportation Toks Omishakin, Sonoma County Supervisor and SMART Board leader David Rabbitt and more.

The groundbreaking comes after the Petaluma council in May approved an agreement between the city and SMART to begin station construction.

Prior to the council approval, in July 2022, the SMART board allocated $14.1 million for the station, including $10.1 million from the state transportation agency’s Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program and $2 million from Measure M, the countywide sales tax the helps fund road, transit and pathway projects.

The project also calls for a three-mile path for cyclists and pedestrians from Southpoint Boulevard to Penngrove’s Main Street, part of the longer trail planned to roughly parallel the north-south rail line, which currently runs about 45 miles from Larkspur to northern Santa Rosa.

“We are ushering in nothing less than a more sustainable, interconnected future for all and the betterment of our planet,” Connolly said. “The SMART pathway is a gateway to adventure, recreation, health and well-bring for all members of our community.”

Additionally, SMART is partnering with the Danco Group to build 131 new affordable housing units on a 5.29-acre portion of the 6.5 acre property. Deemed The Meridian at Petaluma North Station, the housing project will also come with a community garden, dog run, playground, tot lot and basketball court, as well as live-work retail units. The housing portion of the project currently has $46.49 million in secured funding, and is expected to cost about $86.67 million in total.

“This project isn’t just about constructing housing, it’s about building homes,” Connolly added. “It’s about nurturing a community where individuals and families can thrive, access employment and education conveniently and lead healthy, active lives.”

Aguiar-Curry said she was especially excited for the SMART station as it aligned with the opening of the new North Bay Regional Construction and Building Trades Employment Training Center at the Santa Rosa Junior College Petaluma campus, about one mile from the new train stop. The center project recently received $7.12 million in grant funding, and is set to train hundreds of construction and trades workers annually to support regionwide wildfire recovery and rebuild efforts, according to the SRJC website.

“This is what progress looks like,” Aguiar-Curry said. “This infrastructure investment will create access to economic opportunity in the form of construction jobs, rail operation jobs and create economic opportunity through workforce training.”

After a yearslong stall caused due to a funding snag, SMART is resuming construction on its northern extension to Windsor, where it expects to begin service in 2025. It also has the money needed to complete the next extension, to Healdsburg — moves that Supervisor Rabbitt touted on Thursday.

"SMART has made tremendous progress, and right now has great momentum. And we’re not finished,“ Rabbitt said.

"Travel and transportation continue to shift and evolve throughout the North Bay and beyond,“ he said. ”With this new station, and these miles of pathway, we have more alternatives to get from Point A to Point B than an automobile."

The final planned Sonoma County station, already built but without a line yet to serve it, is in Cloverdale. SMART officials have long declined to say when the commuter train could reach that northern terminus.

Launched in 2017, SMART is closing in on record ridership after a pronounced pandemic slump. While its main source of revenue is the voter-approved two-county quarter-cent sales tax, it has won more than $220 million in state and federal grants since the beginning of 2022 to support rail and pathway expansion. It has also slashed fares to make its service more affordable.

“People around the country need to know about SMART,” Omishakin said. “It’s absolutely an example of how to do transit right.”

Amelia Richardson is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at or 707-521-5208.

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