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North Bay transportation projects receive new scrutiny

By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Two long-envisioned North Bay transportation projects are under renewed scrutiny as regional planners put together a new $200 billion spending plan.

The two projects — widening the Novato Narrows and Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit extensions to Cloverdale and Larkspur — are in the current regional plan, a listing that is necessary to be eligible for state and federal funds.

But they are now being subjected to a fresh level of analysis as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission crafts a new regional plan, scheduled to be adopted in mid 2013 and take effect in 2015.

“The commission will want to take a closer look at both of these projects and look not only at cost-benefit, but at the history,” MTC spokesman John Goodwin said. “In each case there is significant support, but it would be vastly presumptuous to declare any likely outcome.”

MTC’s ranking now includes a cost-benefit ratio based on construction cost and a reduction in travel times.

Additionally, the MTC is also considering the impact on greenhouse gases, fossil fuel use, reducing traffic congestion, improving safety, serving housing needs and the availability of transit for low-income residents.

Unfortunately, that analysis benefits projects in the more heavily-populated areas of Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose to the detriment of Sonoma County, said Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.

“Just because we are not an urban, densely-populated area, it doesn’t mean we don’t have transportation needs,” Smith said.

In one MTC analysis, the SMART extensions, estimated to cost $283 million, have a poor cost-benefit ratio compared to road and other transit projects, but have environmental benefits and support from voters who approved a quarter-cent sales tax.

For the widening of the Narrows between Petaluma and Novato, which will cost $300 million to complete, the cost-benefit ratio is acceptable. However, the widening will only add vehicles to Highway 101, and increase emissions, greenhouse gases and other negative environmental impacts, according to the MTC evaluation.

Those two projects are now considered regionally significant and are included in the current MTC regional plan.

“They are still viable on a regional level and when final arguments are made, they may survive,” said Rohnert Park Mayor Jake Mackenzie, an MTC commissioner. “I would say they will be under a lot of scrutiny, but we knew that anyway.”

The regional plan also looks at plans to build a $1.46 million regional network of bikeways in the Bay Area, including Sonoma County. The proposal has a high cost-benefit ratio, because of its relatively low cost compared to the number of cars it is expected to take off the road, as well as environmental and health benefits.

A proposal to spend $428 million to expand bus transit in Sonoma County gets a low cost-benefit mark, but there are still many environmental benefits, according to the MTC analysis.

The MTC expects to receive $200 billion in funds between 2015 and 2040 that will be generated by all local, regional, state and federal sources, from local sales taxes to federal gas taxes.

Seventy percent of that will be used to maintain the current transportation system, including road repairs and mass transit, leaving 30 percent for expansions and new projects.

Planners for Sonoma County expects its share to be $967 million in funds from 2015 to 2040. They propose spending $267.8 million for a SMART extension from Santa Rosa to Cloverdale, $200 million for widening Highway 101 in the Narrows and $95 million in bikeways.

Marin County officials, however, say they will include money for the SMART extension from San Rafael to Larkspur in its proposals only after SMART has the Santa Rosa-San Rafael segment in operation.

“It is not that we don’t support SMART. We have this tiny pot of state gas tax money, and we have elected to spend it on other things, like finish the Narrows,” said Dianne Steinhauser, executive director of the Transportation Authority of Marin.





13 Responses to “North Bay transportation projects receive new scrutiny”

  1. Money Grubber says:

    Message to Ted:

    A STATE WIDE POLL that reflects voter sentiment STATE WIDE is a part of Sonoma County life.

    Particularly with regard to the poll that demonstrated voter anger at mass transit train funding and a desire to RE-vote the issue.

    You are merely attempting to sift and manipulate what the reader sees within Sonoma County when you intentionally steer the posts away from such state wide news as if local transit funding is a separate issue.

  2. GAJ says:

    Santa Rosa has been using buses powered by Natural Gas for years.

    Electric Hybrids are also now becoming available.

    Widening the Novato Narrows should allow cars to flow at a pace where their emissions/mile are substantially improved.

  3. Social Dis-Ease says:

    To Kay:
    exactly.
    I agree…busses.
    Bio diesel busses.
    Makes WAY more sense in every way.
    Busses can cross the G.G. bridge.

    The only thing is, you can’t divert billions and crash the local economy with busses.

    Interesting little ‘soft peddle’ press release though.

  4. Jim M says:

    If I read this right, the MTC will have to fund the portion of SMART from Santa Rosa to Cloverdale, and views that to “have a poor cost-benefit ratio compared to road and other transit projects” so is unlikely to fund it. THis is not made clear on the SMART website. It also seems the extension to Larkspur is unlikely to be funded with no commitment on the part of Marin. Why are we spending so much on a train from Santa Rosa to San Rafael when that serves almost no one. A bike path would serve more people and not require millions in annual subsidies to operate. This says to me that SMART will bleed all other transport options dry for funding over the next 50 years. If we want any improvement in transportation here, we need to stop the SMART money pit now.

  5. Martian says:

    Did someone say 200 billion?

  6. Ted Appel says:

    If you are going to post a summary of another news story – particularly one that occurred outside Sonoma County – make sure you explain in your comment why it is pertinent to the local story that we are discussing on WSC. If you post material that is off topic, it probably won’t clear the bar.

    One more thing: If you use a phony email address when you post, there is no way for me to reach out to you privately.

    Hope that explains it, @Money Grubber. I’m simply trying to keep the conversations here focused.

    Ted Appel
    WSC Moderator

  7. Money Grubber says:

    Billy C:

    Why is it that every time I read of “bike paths” being built with tax money, those bike paths always are attached to some HUGE government project such as a train ! ?

    By the way, twice now the Press Demo has deleted my post that directed readers to the now well known recent poll that demonstrates state voters want a RE-vote on the bullet train and that that same poll demonstrates voters will reject the bullet train.

    Google the topic. California voters no longer favor the bullet train due to cost over runs and another 10 years of planning.

  8. Steveguy says:

    The article shows a bias that may be a total lie, by our revered ” PLANNERS”.

    They bias the $$$$$ for SMART for a ‘GREEN’ reason, yet the numbers aren’t there to justify that argument.

    THEN, The article states that widening the Novato Narrows would lead to more pollution by higher traffic .. What ? We have needed that for decades, and it has always been opposed by the ‘no growth crowd’.. Besides the FACT that traffic congestion leads to MORE pollution ! Well now the no growth people have fallen in love with ” Smart Growth”, which is 3-5 story stack and pack housing in city centers, even in a rural area like ours.

    I may be wrong, but if I read the article correctly, out of $200 Billion, Sonoma County wants less than a Billion.

    1/2 of 1 percent ?

    And a plan that goes to 2040 ? No supply and demand, just edicts on where and how you can live.. It’s treasonous.

  9. John Parnell says:

    The infamous Phase 2 of SMART is already on the chopping block? Does this mean that SMART will finally admit that their “phased implementation” is a crock, and Phase 1 is all they can deliver?

  10. Kay Tokerud says:

    Hey PD, it’s called One Bay Area! You forgot to mention that. At their last meeting open to the public the question was, how intense of a Planned Future do people want. The already devised plan was rolled out at the meeting but people were allowed to vote on either the bad ‘business as usual’ or the good planned future, planned future intensified, or planned future more intensified. In fact, they are trying to design our future to only allow housing to be developed along transit corridors like along Smart and 101. Other development will be discouraged and labelled as evil sprawl.

    The article completely misses the point of what One Bay Area is about. The numbers here are interesting though. The quarter cent sales tax that voters passed was supposed to completely pay for the entire length of the Smart train. In fact, the tax does not even cover the shortened route and will contribute nothing toward the segment going to Cloverdale. A full one-quarter of all Sonoma County’s transportation funding for the next 25 years will be needed just to build that segment! The Smart boondoggle will cause all other transportation systems to be underfunded if allowed to continue.

    Why aren’t the busses receiving more of the funds? Busses actually are capable of serving the entire county unlike trains going in a straight line. They can even cross the bay into the city. Our Planned Future, the theme of One Bay Area envisions having most people live in transit villages placed in a straight line along the transportation routes they have identified. High density, urban multi-story apartment buildings are where we are supposed to live in the future. That’s why Sonoma County voted to allow almost all of the county’s rural roads to crumble.

    This is it now folks, our freedom is falling away in favor of social engineering plans being imposed on us. This plan is regionalization designed by unelected boards who are affilliate members of ICLEI who take their marching orders from International organizations, chiefly the United Nations. Even our local newspaper is taking their orders from these regimes and will not report on anything having to do with the problem of regionalization, the United Nations plans, or what’s happening to our civil liberties, namely property rights. Your future is being designed for you.

    Even the occupy people don’t respect private property rights, as if middle class people don’t own property. Still, most Americans own their own home and expect their government to protect their Constitutional rights. But that’s all changing now and we are collapsing into a country where we may no longer be proud of our civil liberties. The United States is already slated for becoming part of a larger region of North and South America. First, One Bay Area, Then, One America, Then, One World. The only question left is how long will it be before this happens?

  11. GAJ says:

    Let’s not forget that by 2025 the CAFE standards for cars will be 54.5mpg thus a huge drop in auto emissions.

  12. Commonsense says:

    Good, the SMART Train could use a little more scrutiny. I hope it’s a sincere and real analysis and not just done for the sake of appearance or image.

  13. Billy C says:

    I read this to mean the MTC will likely
    Chose not to support SMART as it will not materially reduce travel time or reduce green house gasses. The re-vote on Measure Q will show how badly the protect has fallen out of favor. The up side is we will get more bike paths and hopefully more funding for our deteriorating roads.
    The big question is will they still push transit oriented development? I cant see the up side of 6,000 low income units being built within or citys when we
    have no corresponding job growth.