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More public discussion needed on Rainier project

The Petaluma City Council recently held a public workshop on crosstown connectors. This workshop is a result of the council’s goal setting earlier this year where we heard that we need to be more transparent, and do something about traffic.

The city has more than $20 million in the bank dedicated toward traffic improvements. I believe that we need to do something this year. Now is the time to go forward. I believe that an open public process is the only path to getting traffic relief.

The entire crosstown connector discussion and the funding requirements needs to have an open transparent conversation so that the decision of what to do is clear and achievable.

The workshop focused on three separate and very different crosstown connectors: the Lynch Creek Trail, the Caulfield-Petaluma River crossing and the elephant in any crosstown conversation, the Rainier connector.

First, the Lynch Creek Trail which, while significantly less expensive and yes could and should proceed immediately, is not the magnitude of solution to the traffic problem of getting across town. It is an alternative for that growing segment of the community who are not car dependent.

Second, the proposed Caulfield–Petaluma River crossing, which would bridge the river between Lakeville at Caulfield across to South Petaluma Boulevard. This new road would provide an alternative crosstown route and relieve congestion on D Street. The project is estimated to cost $29 million.

Third, the Rainier connector. There is no bigger political football for Petalumans than this 50-year-old project. The city has spent $7 million on the Highway 101 section starting construction now and budgeted another $3 million for land purchases this fiscal year. Of the estimated cost of $79 million for the city portion, ?$66 million in development fees are needed.

Caulfield and Rainier are both included in the city’s General Plan. One is not prioritized over the other. Both are included in the fee structure for all new development. Neither are proposed to be funded by any fees to existing residents. Is there that much development? When will fees be collected? When could something, anything, get built?

The project scopes, budgets, cash flows, traffic benefits, and construction schedules need to be compared and discussed in public. This recent workshop was a great first step. Open meetings help build trust for government decisions. We need to have a plan together, a real plan, before the 101 widening completes in 2022 when any work on Rainier could at earliest begin. The next public workshop needs to put these facts in the public’s hands.

There is much needed conversation. Many people are shocked to hear that the proposed Rainier project does not connect to Highway 101. Others are surprised to see that Rainier would include multiple intersections to connect with the adjacent developments that are needed to fund the road. Others ask what development will occur and is that plan viable. Good public analysis and maps help make good decisions.

My great worry is that the $20 million that the city has collected from development and the funds being collected from current development will just sit in a savings account at the bank losing value compared to the escalating cost of road construction and Petalumans will get no traffic relief.

That is why I want 2020 to be the year that we make decisions. Fifty years of planning and promises is too much. Now must be the time to make decisions.

We need to compare our wishes and needs against our means and funds. Maybe this analysis causes us to re-evaluate our car dependent choices. We cannot squander the valuable cash the city is holding. We cannot do nothing and just play political football. The city needs to deliver traffic relief by one solution or another. Now. This year.

(Kevin McDonnell is a Petaluma City Councilman.)

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