A political feud has erupted between transportation officials in Sonoma and Marin counties, pitting some who want to use federal funds to widen Highway 101 along the notoriously congested Novato Narrows against others who want to expand a transit center in San Rafael.
Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt issued a rare public rebuke of the general managers at the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit authority and the Golden Gate Bridge district, who made a formal request last month for $18.2 million in federal funds long coveted by Sonoma County transportation planners.
SMART and bridge district officials want most of the money to go toward updating a transit hub in San Rafael to accommodate rail and bus service. Rabbitt, who sits on the boards of both agencies, said the bulk of the money should be used to widen Highway 101 south of Petaluma and help alleviate some of the worst traffic gridlock in the entire Bay Area.
Spending the money on future upgrades to the transit hub, he said Monday, was akin to a “transportation crime” when “you have 100,000 people stuck in traffic on a daily basis.”
Rabbitt, who also serves as chairman of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, said the general managers of the two transit agencies gave him no advance warning before they sent a letter to state transportation officials seeking the federal money for their own interests.
“It’s a matter of communication, and I think in this case we failed miserably,” the supervisor said at last Wednesday’s SMART board meeting.
Rabbitt last week aimed his ire directly at Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager, who sat across from the supervisor during Wednesday’s board meeting. Mansourian did not respond during the meeting, and in an interview Monday, he declined to specifically address Rabbitt’s concerns.
“I am not making any comments about my board member’s comments,” Mansourian said.
The dispute centers on a congressional earmark granted in 2005 to bring ferry service to Port Sonoma on the Petaluma River. That project failed to materialize, and in March, federal transportation officials released the $18.2 million earmark for a new use.
The funds must be used on transportation projects within a 50-mile radius of the port’s proposed location. Otherwise, it comes with virtually no strings attached.
Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, called the funding a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to get money for completing the Highway 101 widening project. Carpool lanes would be opened on a 5-mile stretch of the highway from the Petaluma River Bridge to just south of the Sonoma-Marin county line.
Sonoma County already has $14 million for the project. Rabbitt sent a letter to state transportation officials — who are facilitating the earmark process — requesting $15 million of the Port Sonoma funds to start construction. He proposed that the remaining balance of $3.2 million go toward the San Rafael transit center.
Rabbitt fired off his letter several days after Mansourian and Golden Gate Bridge district chief Denis Mulligan sent their own letter to the state seeking $12 million for the San Rafael center, with the remainder going for the highway project. The cost for initial upgrades to the facility, which serves 9,000 people daily, is pegged at $3.5 million. But Mansourian said Monday there will be future costs associated with the project.