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Tough to make a SMART decision at Jennings Avenue crossing

By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Finding a way to get pedestrians and bicyclists safely across the railroad tracks at Jennings Avenue continues to confound the Santa Rosa City Council, which has no good options to accomplish that goal.

The council learned Tuesday that it has four options for the location west of Coddingtown, ranging from no cost to nearly $3 million.

Jesy Carrillo lifts daughter Callie over the tracks at the Jennings Avenue crossing, Aug. 14, 2012. (PD File)

The first and cheapest option is to do nothing, in which case the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, which expects to begin rail service in 2016, will build walls to prevent people from crossing the tracks. The cost to SMART would be $140,000, but the city would pay nothing.

The next option, which the council favors, is to build an at-grade crossing with signals to help people legally cross where they have been doing so informally for years. That would cost $451,000.

The third option is to build a 25-foot-high overpass made up of two 310-foot-long ramps. Cost: $1.7 million.

And the fourth and most expensive option is to raise the rails about 10 feet and build an undercrossing beneath it. Cost: $2.9 million.

City staff members are trying to find a way to avoid the first option because pedestrians and bicyclists have for years used the unofficial crossing and the city’s general plan has long envisioned formalizing that connection point.

The fourth option has been rejected as too expensive and late to pull off, since SMART’s contractor is already rebuilding the rails in the area.

That leaves the at-grade crossing and overpass as the only two viable options, but each face significant challenges.

The state Public Utilities Commission regulates rail crossings and in order to win approval for one at Jennings Avenue, the city might have to close one or even two existing crossings.

If it doesn’t, the city’s chances of getting a new crossing approved are “negligible,” said Rick Moshier, the city’s director of transportation and public works.

But that means the city might need to decide which street or streets to close before it even filed its application with the PUC.

“Closing any other street is going to be hugely controversial,” said Councilwoman Susan Gorin. “The politics of that is going to collide very definitely with the environmental part of it.”

Because of the complexity and uncertainty of going before the PUC, Moshier first suggested conducting an environmental report that focused on the overcrossing, with the at-grade crossing as a backup.

“The only one that you can unilaterally do is the overcrossing,” Moshier said.

But the council decided that it would rather focus on the cheaper option of an at-grade crossing despite the concerns about PUC approval and potential political brouhaha it would create.

The council ultimately decided to postpone a decision on the issue to get some better numbers about the cost of the environmental work required.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter @citybeater





14 Responses to “Tough to make a SMART decision at Jennings Avenue crossing”

  1. barbi says:

    Every time you see the word “Smart” just remember that you have entered into Opposites Universe. “Smart” actually means DUMB!

    I have a great solution to the problem that will cost nothing. Here it is:

    Look both ways before you cross. If you don’t and you get hit by the train, then it is your own dumb (oops, SMART) fault.

    And I just don’t know how we survived without the geniuses on the Santa Rosa City Council! I think we should demand a study and report to determine how each one materially benefits from his/her position on the council.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  2. Que Sera says:

    make a crossing similar to the one for cars etc and place it on the track so bicylists can ride across it. They then carry the people want to cross the tracks on their bikes which pay no road taxes. Perhaps the cyclists would care to donate seeing they dont do much else for city or county or people of this city!

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  3. becker says:

    In San Clemente they have crossings over the commuter train tracks to the beach. I saw no problem with this the bars came down the people waited the train went by the arms went up the people crossed over to the street.

    Why is this so difficult? Are people in charge trying to justify their jobs?

    Keep
    It
    Simple
    Stupid

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  4. Steveguy says:

    Hmmm, $1.7 million for a bridge when the 101 ‘bicycle bridge’ is pegged at over $20 million. That seems fishy to me.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  5. Dan J Drummond says:

    I like the third option, build a 25-foot-high overpass made up of two 310-foot-long ramps. I hope the ramps corkscrew upward like the old pedestrian bridge over Highway 101 at the end of Sonoma Avenue by Luther Burbank School. That old bridge sure made getting to the Prince Greenway more fun. Too bad it’s gone.

    Maybe the city could reduce the overall cost by combining this project with building a new bicycle and pedestrian bridge over Highway 101 at the end of Jennings Avenue? Providing a safe motor vehicle free path from the east side of town to the Junior College would be a great improvement for the city, a good use of tax dollars. Possibly a grant is available for this type of safety improvement.

    And when you look at the area on Google Earth, you’ll notice a great deal of undeveloped land off Jennings, between the railroad tracks and Highway 101. As the population grows, sooner or later that land maybe used for housing. Perhaps a small development fee could be assessed to help offset the cost of the safe path project, since people that move there may use the bridge more than others.

    Good use of tax dollars = thumbs-up
    Waste of tax dollars = thumbs-down

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 17

  6. hannnon sutro jr says:

    Leave it as it is, do not spend any more money, if people get run over then they are stupid and deserve to be killed. It does a twofold benefit, 1, quits wasting money on stupid things, and 2, gets rid of the stupid people that shouldn’t be alive anyway….

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 8

  7. BigDogatPlay says:

    The easiest solution…. fence the right of way completely between the nearest already in place at grade crossings on either side of this spot. Walk to one end or the other and cross safely, plus get some exercise in the fresh air into the bargain. In the end I would expect SMART will do the dumb thing and go for the biggest and most costly solution, simply because that’s how they roll.

    People are not intelligent enough to not cross tracks when the barriers are down. I used to write those tickets all the time, and I’ve noticed Petaluma PD recently enhancing it’s revenue stream by sitting on crossings when the freight trains are moving. In many counties the fine is similar to running a red traffic light, which ain’t cheap.

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 4

  8. Steveguy says:

    Isn’t there supposed to be a bike path down the whole line ? When are we/they allowed to cross the tracks ?

    I am serious here.

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 1

  9. James Bennett says:

    Welcome to insanity.

    Well, look at the bright side…

    OK, I guess there is no bright side.

    I wish I could change the channel.

    The word unbelievable seems to take on new meaning every day.

    Thumb up 30 Thumb down 4

  10. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    The city council beat this bush last night and didn’t really find an answer except to put more money into research. Because, I believe that we cannot find a way to make a train crossing 100% safe. People will find a way to get through fences, walk the tracks stupidly and in general put their own lives in danger. Then they talked about money which I WISH they would put toward the transit bus system and not into MORE RESEARCH ON THE SUBJECT.

    Just like the crosswalks with careless, distracted drivers. We can’t make those crosswalks 100% safe.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 4

  11. GAJ says:

    Dan, your suggestion is perfectly logical except in a Lawsuit happy world.

    The City has ID’d this “crossing” as such and thus must address it to mitigate against future lawsuits.

    $451,000 is a ton of money for the upgrades, no question, but could prevent millions in potential losses down the road from the ambulance chasers.

    But perhaps the $140,000 wall would accomplish the same thing…and that option would cost the City “nothing.”

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 1

  12. Kirstin says:

    What stupidity on the part of the PUC. Close other street crossings so a crossing can be allowed at Jennings? Absurd! The city needs to sit down with the PUC and overcome this ridiculous restriction. There has been an unofficial crossing at Jennings for who knows how long. Now, with SMART coming, we want to make it an official (and logical) ground crossing. What is so blasted hard about that??

    Thumb up 28 Thumb down 2

  13. Dan Drummond says:

    Do we know how many people actually use that crossing in a week? Is it 10? 100? 1,000? Might help to know how much use the crossing gets before dropping a bunch of cash on it.

    Thumb up 24 Thumb down 1

  14. GAJ says:

    Dear lord; do the logical thing and go with an at grade crossing just like the dozens of others along the train route.

    If people along the route are expected to be smart enough not to cross tracks whether by car or on foot when the barriers are down I think the people using the Jennings Avenue can handle it…or does SMART think the people who will use that crossing are especially dim?

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 2

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