Petaluma invests in crosstown roads

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A pair of projects to build new bridges and connect east and west Petaluma are moving forward buoyed by city council funding, but the completed crosstown connectors remain years away and millions of dollars short.

The Rainier Avenue extension received a $3.8 million funding boost in the city’s 2019-20 budget, mostly to pay for the cost of land acquisition to accommodate the western end of the new road.

Meanwhile, the city has submitted plans for a new bridge over the Petaluma River at Caulfield Lane to the U.S. Coast Guard, the first step in seeking a necessary permit for spans over navigable waterways.

Of the two projects, city officials acknowledge that the Rainier connector is further along. With a funding gap for the two projects, it will be up to elected officials to prioritize the competing proposals.

“I don’t think we can do both at once,” said Councilwoman Kathy Miller. “My suspicion is Rainier will be first to get done, then we’ll turn our attention to Caulfield.”

The city council in 2015 approved the environmental report for the .65-mile Rainier extension that would link McDowell Boulevard with Petaluma Boulevard North. Plans call for a bridge over the Petaluma River and SMART tracks and an undercrossing at Highway 101.

Construction can’t begin until Caltrans widens and raises the freeway, which it is set to do starting in August.

The city has already spent $10.5 million on the project, mostly for the environmental work and for the undercrossing structure. Money budgeted this year, which will bring the city’s total investment in the project to nearly $15 million, includes $3 million for acquiring the right of way and $750,000 for preliminary design work.

Actual construction of the project, thought to be $35 million, is not included in this year’s budget.

“Future phases of this project will extend Rainier Avenue under Highway 101 to create a cross-town connector,” the budget document states. “Currently there is insufficient funding to execute this project. Sources of possible funding will continue to be explored.”

The council has tentatively scheduled a workshop for Sept. 23 to discuss the Rainier project, City Manager Peggy Flynn said. She said funding could come from a combination of traffic impact fees paid by developers and land owners whose properties abut the future roadway.

“Anyone who can benefit can contribute,” Flynn said.

Mayor Teresa Barrett, however, does not think the city will have the money to build the road and has suggested abandoning the project unless a funding plan can be established.

“I truly believe there’s never going to be money for it,” she said. “I think we’re talking about something where there’s a huge gap between what we want and what we have the money for.”

The city has invested even less — $350,000 so far — in the Caulfield Lane project, according to Jason Beatty, the city’s assistant director of public works. That funding went towards the initial design of a new drawbridge that will eventually connect Petaluma Boulevard South with the new Riverfront development under construction at the end of Hopper Street. The Caulfield project does not have an approved environmental report.

“We have a capital improvement project to develop a conceptual design,” Beatty said. “The initial plan gives us the type of bridge we’re looking at to estimate construction cost.”

Preliminary plans from consultant AECOM show a 118-foot drawbridge with a minimum clearance of 10 feet in the closed position. Beatty said the city sent the plans to the Coast Guard to start the process of obtaining a bridge permit.

The Coast Guard is seeking comments through June 5 from users of the Petaluma River on the proposed bridge. Plans can be viewed at navcen.uscg.gov/D11BN.

Carl Hausner, the Coast Guard bridge section chief, said it is the first step in a lengthy permitting process.

“We take the comments,” he said. “If there is no negative feedback, we can tell Petaluma that we will support their request.”

This would then trigger a 9-month to 1-year-long process that would study the environmental impacts of the bridge among other things.

“This is just a preliminary step so the city can go ahead with their design,” he said.

The new Caulfield bridge will be the fourth movable span across the Petaluma River. The D Street drawbridge was built in 1933 and rehabilitated in 1953 and 2009. The Haystack Landing rail bridge, which was built in 1903, was replaced by SMART in 2015. The Black Point rail bridge near the river’s mouth was built in 1911.

A drawbridge at Washington Street built in 1914 was relocated to South America in 1968 and replaced with the current fixed span.

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)

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