Is a $20 million bicycle bridge a necessity or a luxury?

Backpedal, everybody.

There's no question that Santa Rosa would benefit from having a bike bridge over Highway 101 linking Santa Rosa Junior College with the Coddingtown mall.

But what's the rush to build this bridge now? The projected price tag of $13 million to $20 million alone should give everyone pause, particularly at a time when street lights are being turned off, city workers are being let go and schools are being closed.

Granted, funds for this bridge would come mostly from redevelopment money — not from the general fund — and state and federal sources set aside for infrastructure projects of this kind. Nevertheless, perception is reality, and the timing of this project couldn't be worse from a community relations perspective.

The City Council is right to take this project slowly, if that is what it's doing. The City Council voted 5-2 on Tuesday to press ahead. But City Councilman John Sawyer said he voted yes only so that he would have the right to bring the issue back next week when two new council members, Scott Bartley and Jake Ours, are sworn in. We hope that's the case.

This idea needs more time, more thought and, most of all, more input from members of the public, who have only had a few days to evaluate the recommendations and the cost estimates.

There are too many unanswered questions. First, how is it that a bike bridge could cost upwards of $20 million, particularly at a time when bids and cost estimates on so many other projects are coming down?<NO1><NO> Also, how else could the city spend that $20 million? Kudos if Santa Rosa is able to secure federal funds designated only for bike bridges spanning highways. But barring that, what would the city be giving up to pay for this? Imagine how many other bike paths, bike routes and other improvements could be created with that money.

Finally, why would the city move ahead with plans for a bridge and path to the new SMART commuter train station when it's yet to be decided where exactly that station will be? If the full SMART board decides on Dec. 15 to stick with the original plan for a station just south of Jennings Avenue — as opposed to the recommended alternative at Guerneville Road — it would probably make more sense to build the bike crossing at Bear Cub Way rather than the preferred Elliot Avenue, which is considered the more expensive route anyway.

Either way, the revised plans for SMART call for the train to run between the Marin Civic Center and stopping at Santa Rosa's Railroad Square station. Trains aren't expected to be arriving at a station near Coddingtown Mall until 2016 at the earliest. So, again, why the rush?

In truth, we understand the rush. It's about politics. The council majority wanted to see this project approved before a new majority, one possibly less favoring of bike bridges, takes the reins next week. Sawyer's vote to OK the project in order to kill it later, if that's what he does, also was political.

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