Petaluma Tomorrow has endorsed Bill Wolpert, an exceptional candidate for City Council. Wolpert recently released this statement on the Rainier Connector:
Of Course Bill Supports the Rainier Connector
My name is Bill Wolpert. I’m running for Petaluma City Council. And I’m learning that local politics is a full contact sport.
I’ve been accused by a robo call, paid for by my opponents, of being opposed to the Rainier Connector. The accusation is untrue. I believe that the Connector must play an essential role in Petaluma’s future. It’s true that I have questions about the Connector for which we all need answers, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t support the Rainier Connector. I’d like to be a part of the discussion about how it happens.
Providing stronger physical connections between the two sides of Petaluma is crucial to the community. Eastside families should be able to easily travel by bus or car to enjoy an evening stroll in downtown. Westside residents should be able to bike safely to SRJC or to conveniently deliver their kids to a soccer match. Emergency responders need alternatives to get to the hospital and transit providers need more routing options. Those are elements of a healthy town.
But all of the crosstown connectors, existing and proposed, from Old Redwood Highway in the north to the Caulfield Crossing in the south, have challenges ranging from proximity to capacity to construction cost.
For many years, the Rainier Connector has been perceived as the next crosstown connector to be built, but it isn’t immune from the challenges. It’s an alternative with many attributes, including good proximity and connectivity, but it’s not a magic bullet.
Here are my concerns about the Rainier Connector and the questions that we should all be asking.
- Interchange – A 2004 advisory ballot measure described the Rainier Connector as the “Rainier Cross-Town Connector and Interchange Project”. The connection to Highway 101 was a key project element. But even now, twelve years later, Caltrans hasn’t approved an interchange at Rainier.Questions: Do we think Caltrans will approve the interchange? If never, how does that affect the traffic relief? When can we get clarity on this key issue?
- Cost – Although my opponents bandy about an unexplained cost of $34 million, the Rainier Connector will be far more expensive. Although barely more than a half-mile in length, the cost is usually estimated at $60 to $80 million. Measured in dollars per mile, the Rainier Connector would easily be the most expensive street ever built in Petaluma.Question: Given that the interchange remains an uncertainty, how do we get a handle on the cost?
- Burden on taxpayers – The robo call claims that the Rainier Connector can be built without taxpayer dollars. Really? Let’s look at just one element of the financing. The City holds an $11 million loan to help build the Connector. The interest on the loan is now being paid with your taxes. After the funds are spent, they must be repaid with your taxes. That $11 million is your taxes building the road, despite what my opponents may say in their robo calls.Questions: After we have a firm handle on the cost, how do we put together a financing plan? How much of that must be generated from new taxes? And given the many other community needs, from restoring a full complement of police officers to repaving streets, how do we agree on spending priorities?
- Traffic relief – Traffic engineers measures capacity with letter grades from A to F. The traffic study done for the Rainier Connector Environmental Impact Report projects many of the traffic improvements at no more than partial grades, such as changing a C into a C+. Any improvement is good, but the projected improvements are less than many seem to expect.Questions: For the final configuration, what will the traffic relief be? Can we improve the traffic through stronger multi-use paths, more frequent transit service, or further walkable development?
- Readiness to build – Despite the expectations of some, the Rainier Connector won’t happen anytime soon. It can’t be built until Highway 101 is widened through Petaluma, a project that may be a half billion dollars down the Caltrans priority list.Question: What is a realistic schedule for construction?
- Public support – The proponents of the Rainier Connector often point to the 72 percent approval achieved by a 2004 advisory ballot measure, a ballot measure that assumed a connection to Highway 101 but failed to provide an estimated project cost. However, when a ballot measure was placed on the 2014 ballot to fund a portion of the Connector with a sales tax, only 44 percent voted in favor. That’s a significant difference.
Question: Once we have a firm handle on configuration, cost, taxpayer impacts, andtraffic relief, what will the public support be?
I believe in the Rainier Connector. I’m convinced that it must be a part of Petaluma’s future. But we need to have real conversations about what it will be, how it will work, and how the costs will be paid. Robo calls with half-truths and outright deceptions don’t help. Good leadership will help. I’m committed to providing good leadership.
My opponents want the Rainier Connector to be a divisive issue. I want accountability and a transparent process. I hope you agree with me.