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AC Editorial: Petaluma’s roads of the future

It’s no big secret that Petaluma has some of the worst roads around. Clover Sonoma even cheekily dubbed its rocky road ice cream flavor “Petaluma Pothole.”

Petaluma’s streets are the worst in Sonoma County, which is at the bottom of pavement quality in California, which has among the poorest infrastructure in a country where infrastructure week is a running joke. So saying that Petaluma has the streets of a developing nation is not hyperbole.

But there are signs that Petaluma’s rocky roads could vastly improve over the next decade. Voters have sent a clear message that infrastructure is important and more investment is needed at all levels of government to achieve the road network that we expect.

Let’s start with the local level. More than 60% of Petaluma voters last week supported Measure U, the 1-cent sales tax measure to support the city’s General Fund. The measure only needed a simple majority to pass.

The sales tax will give the local government a $13 million annual boost. While city leaders can spend money from the General Fund on any project, and there are certainly many needs in Petaluma, city officials have indicated that investment in street repairs would be among the top priority.

“Petaluma’s 396 miles of roads are rated the worst in the Bay Area and are pitted with potholes and cracks and in dire need of maintenance. Measure U will repair existing hazards and properly maintain our streets, which will only get more expensive to fix the longer they go without repair and repaving,“ according to the city’s website.

At the county level, voters passed Measure DD with almost three-fourths support. The measure will extend the Sonoma County Transportation Authority’s quarter-cent sales tax for another 20 years. That’s an additional $26 million annually for improved roads, bike paths, transit and transportation projects that can help mitigate climate change.

Much of the original sales tax went towards widening Highway 101 through Sonoma County, a two-decade effort that is winding down with the last segment through Petaluma. That means the bulk of the renewed sales tax will be spent on improving streets in the county and the nine cities.

Each city will get a cut of the funds for their street repair efforts. In Petaluma, that translates to a $1 million infusion for pothole repairs. In addition, cities will compete for funding for bigger projects, like a new bridge over the Petaluma River at Caulfield Lane.

The new funding at the city and county level comes two years after 56% of California voters approved a statewide gas tax increase on the November 2018 ballot. The funding from the gas tax, known as SB1, has pumped an additional $12 million into the county’s budget and $1 million annually for Petaluma.

The city has been able to use SB1 money for big projects like repaving Sonoma Mountain Parkway and Maria Drive. A reconstruction of North McDowell is next on the list.

Finally, at the federal level, after four years of promising a big, beautiful infrastructure bill that never materialized, President Trump’s days in office are numbered. President-elect Joe Biden has a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that would, among other things, repair the nation’s roads and bridges and gird the network for for the impacts of climate change.

While the plan would need to get through a divided Congress, there is every indication that Biden would use his political capital to make it a priority.

Voters have shown that they are willing to tax themselves to improve infrastructure even in the middle of a pandemic and economic recession. Despite the efforts of anti-tax groups and business interests, who campaigned against all taxes on the ballot, voters overwhelmingly sent the opposite message.

So, Petaluma Public Works Department, we hope you use this new infusion of funding to improve the city’s streets and pave the potholes. If you don’t, you can no longer blame the lack of funding.

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