On Thursday, two elected officials and I got into the weeds — literally and figuratively — over the proposed bike bridge spanning Highway 101 in Santa Rosa.
When Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Susan Gorin and Rohnert Park Vice Mayor Jake Mackenzie and I took a walk along Armory Drive to Steele Lane, we had to walk single-file at one point to wade through the waist-high weeds lining the sidewalks.
“Now we get into the weeds of traffic,” said Gorin as she motioned west where Steele Lane passes under Highway 101 near Coddingtown.
Gorin recounted her tale of biking to a meeting on the west side of town one morning and nearly losing her life with trying to maneuver through the area to turn south on Cleveland Avenue. “I will never, ever, do that again,” she vowed.
No question. It’s a hazardous and uninviting area to anyone having to travel by foot or bike. Traveling with kids? Forget about it. But, aside from the Highway 101 crossing at Bicentennial Way, which isn’t much better, it’s the only way to get from one side of the highway to the other in that part of town. Which is why so much political energy is being invested in building a bike bridge connecting the Santa Rosa Junior College neighborhood with the southeast corner of Coddingtown Mall. With a SMART train station to be built up the block on Guerneville Road, it makes all the more sense. But does it make financial sense, given the projected cost of somewhere between $10 million and $20 million?
Gorin and Mackenzie, both avid cyclists, invited me on the field trip because of our editorials raising questions about whether this is the best use of gas tax, redevelopment and other funds. The cost of just doing initial studies has jumped from $200,000 to $500,000.
They argue its still worth the investment, particularly given that transportation projects can take years to move foward. Remember how long it took to widen Highway 101?
Mackenzie, chairman of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, says it’s possible that Santa Rosa could be reimbursed for some of the study costs through funds from Measure M, the quarter-cent sales tax county voters passed in 2004 for transportation.
After that, they hope to build the bridge through grants, federal transportation funds and possibly through some local fund-raising. But will local residents be willing to contribute to a bike bridge?
If the Measure M funds come through, it may help persuade the majority of City Council members to keep the idea alive for now. But there remain a lot of thorns on this issue.
- Paul Gullixson