Petaluma's Rainier connector back in political spotlight

  • The west end of Rainier Avenue, with northbound Highway 101 in the background, near the Deer Creek Plaza shopping center. (Scott Manchester / Argus-Courier staff, 2013)

Unrealized after nearly 50 years, Petaluma’s Rainier Avenue cross-town connector is back in the forefront again and shaping up to be a divisive election issue.

Through the decades, Rainier, one of the longest-planned street projects in Petaluma, has suffered from lack of funding and, at times, a lack of political will.

Its configuration has changed over the years, too, and a scaled-down version is being analyzed for its potential environmental impacts.

Much of the community at large has long supported Rainier, according to several polls since the mid-1990s. In 2004, 72 percent of city voters said they backed a Rainier cross-town connector.

Relieving traffic congestion — which supporters promise Rainier will do — also polled strongly in city surveys in the past year about what residents would be willing to increase their sales tax to fund.

The project once was killed, removed by an environmentally friendly council from the city’s general plan in 1999. But it was revived in 2004 after so-called development-friendly council members won a majority.

Today, most of the seven-member council appears to support finding funding for the connector and getting it built.

“At this point you have a strong council majority that has every intention of making it happen,” said Councilman Mike Healy, long a supporter of the project. “It’s not that the Rainier project is without flaws or without issues, but it’s the best alternative.”

Opponents argue the project could cause downstream flooding, won’t solve the town’s traffic problems and actually will cause delays at several other nearby intersections. They say it is an expensive pipe dream and a boondoggle that would open several hundred acres of land to growth for the benefit of developers.

Planning commissioners earlier this month heard a staff presentation on the draft environmental impact report that is being prepared.

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