GUEST OPINION: Community connector a bridge to the future

Published: Saturday, June 4, 2011


Later this month, the Santa Rosa City Council will decide whether to go forward with the “community connector” bridge over Highway 101.

The city has grant funds for this next step, so there is no impact on the current budget.

However, The Press Democrat's May 12 Editorial (“Bike bridge: Exercise in frustration?”) suggested the city shouldn't invest in the bridge because, among other things, federal funding is uncertain.

We at the North Bay Organizing Project disagree. In Sonoma County and all around America, transportation is about connecting people to opportunity. Our transportation systems shape every aspect of where we live, work, play and study, and a thriving public transportation system means greater access to jobs, education and services.

Unfortunately, Sonoma County's system is falling short of that goal — especially in Santa Rosa. We believe our local transportation system can only succeed if it serves all of Santa Rosa.

Highway 101 divides our community in half. It cuts off a large part of Santa Rosa — including the students, staff and faculty at Santa Rosa Junior College — from our current transportation system as well as our planned rapid transit system.

Without the pedestrian and bicycle bridge, our existing system and the future Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit system are inadequate and unsafe. Pedestrians and bicyclists crossing Highway 101 must use either Steele Lane or College Avenue, which carry a high volume of motorists.

Our communities shouldn't have to choose between getting where they need to go and their physical safety. We can do better, and we need to. That is why we support the community connector bridge.

The benefits to our community would be enormous. Local businesses support the bridge because they understand it would bring new jobs and an economic boost for the city in addition to providing vital SMART ridership. The costs of planning and building are not insignificant, but it's important to understand that when it comes to funding the bridge, and other improvements to our local transportation system, we have powerful allies.

In Washington, a debate is on about the future of our national transportation system. The core of the debate is whether to invest or to cut. We at the North Bay Organizing Project know that investing in transportation infrastructure, especially transit, means building communities that are more deeply connected — not just physically but economically and spiritually as well.

The Obama administration has proposed a bold $550 billion federal transportation bill that would help solve our local transportation dilemma in several important ways. First, it includes tens of billions of dollars in funding for projects that increase community livability by encouraging walking, biking and transit access — exactly as the community connector bridge would.

Second, it would increase federal investments in transit, easing city budgets and giving SMART the ability to restore recent service cuts.

Third, for the first time in 40 years, the Obama proposal would allow local transit agencies to use a portion of their federal transit dollars for day-to-day operations, not just for construction and maintenance.

We are lucky that Sonoma County is blessed with a thoughtful and powerful congressional delegation. We call on them to support the Obama administration's national transportation funding proposal. We at the North Bay Organizing Project believe that transit is a powerful way to build community and prosperity. That's something that should move us all.

Paul Harris is a Santa Rosa architect. Karym Sanchez, is a Santa Rosa Junior College student and president of MEChA.

This story originally appeared in the Press Democrat on June 4, 2011 and is available here: