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State rail regulators to decide fate of Santa Rosa’s Jennings Avenue SMART crossing

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State rail regulators in San Francisco are set to vote Thursday morning on Santa Rosa’s request to restore a ground-level pedestrian and bicycle pathway over the railroad tracks at Jennings Avenue.

The city has sought the return of the historic east-west crossing in northwestern Santa Rosa since receiving the California Public Utilities Commission’s approval to build it in September 2016. It is seeking a two-year extension to work out a deal for it with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, which now owns the rail right of way. A legal arbitrator for the state agency last month recommended granting the request to construct the footpath through September 2021, stating that the city’s plan for added enhancements met public safety requirements.

SMART, the North Bay’s commuter rail agency, opposes a ground-level crossing at Jennings Avenue, citing ongoing safety concerns.

In 2015, two years before the launch of service, SMART fenced off the pathway, which dates to at least the early 20th century.

SMART previously supported the city’s plan to build an overcrossing at the location, submitting a letter of support as part of a regional transportation grant application for $8 million toward the $9 million project. Santa Rosa ultimately reverted back to a ground-level crossing, noting the access challenges for disabled people and the overcrossing’s general incompatibility with the neighborhood. It returned the grant funding.

SMART submitted [a] letter in support of the city’s updated plans before reversing course once passenger service started. SMART did not return a request for comment Monday about the Public Utilities Commission’s upcoming vote on the crossing. If approved Thursday, the two-year extension would place the ball back in the court of SMART and the largest city along its rail line, leaving the two entities to come to an agreement over the long-disputed issue.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10147543-181/state-rail-regulators-to-decide?sba=AAS

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Study of public trail along lower Russian River to kick off with Saturday meeting

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Russian River Trail Feasibility Study

The vision of a 19-mile bike and pedestrian trail linking lower Russian River communities from Forestville to Jenner is still just that, but Sonoma County officials are taking the first steps toward what they hope might make for a concrete plan one day.

Armed with more than $750,000 in grant funding for the purpose, regional parks personnel are launching a feasibility study to figure out where they might try to route a multiuse trail that would provide a safer alternative than River Road or Highway 116 for cyclists and pedestrians, offering recreational opportunities to locals and visitors.

The high-speed, high-traffic route through west Sonoma County hosts an average of 11,000 daily vehicle trips, and has a history of bicycle and pedestrian crashes, officials said.

“We’re looking at providing a trail that is actually separate from the roadway, if we can provide a safe place for folks to walk and bike,” Sonoma County Regional Parks Planner Ken Tam said. “If we can keep them away from the shoulder it will actually provide safety for the vehicles, as well.”

But “it’s a pretty daunting task,” given the breadth of the study area, significant development up to the roadways in some areas and other obstacles — like bridges, steep embankments, private property rights and the like, Tam said.

A public meeting scheduled Saturday morning in Guerneville is part of the process. County consultants want to hear from the public about priority areas for safe passage and important linkages or destinations, like schools, beaches and service centers, Tam said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9583267-181/study-of-public-trail-along

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Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit officials resist new Santa Rosa crossing

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Local passenger rail officials have told Santa Rosa they’re putting the brakes on plans for a $2.3 million rail crossing near Coddingtown Mall, but they’re saying very little publicly about their apparent reversal.

Top Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit officials recently informed Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey and other city officials that they are concerned about the safety of a proposed crossing for pedestrians and bicyclists at Jennings Avenue.

That’s a major about-face for SMART officials, who supported the crossing two years ago before state utility regulators and told Santa Rosa officials publicly they felt the crossing — which would block pedestrians from crossing the track when a train approaches — would be perfectly safe.

“We were told that circumstances had changed,” Mayor Chris Coursey said. “If they no longer support building the Jennings crossing, it would be extremely disappointing.”

Jennings Avenue used to cross over the tracks in an east-west direction, but at some point decades ago the crossing was blocked off for vehicles and the street now dead-ends at the track. Area residents continued to cross the tracks there in relative safety as rail service over the ensuing decades was sporadic or nonexistent.

When SMART began testing trains on the line in 2015, it fenced off the area and directed pedestrians and bicyclists to cross a quarter-mile north at Guerneville Avenue.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8569281-181/sonoma-marin-area-rail-transit-officials