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Jennings crossing over SMART tracks gets another extension

A deadline to build a controversial Santa Rosa pedestrian crossing that has been in limbo for about half a decade was pushed back another two years by state regulators on Thursday.

During its regular meeting Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission board approved Santa Rosa’s request to extend the deadline to complete a ground-level crossing across Sonoma-Marin Rail Transit tracks on Jennings Avenue.

The item was on the CPUC’s consent calendar Thursday morning and board members unanimously approved the extension without discussion.

A previous extension approved in 2019 was set to expire on Sept. 20. If that happened, it would have put an end to a project that’s divided city and SMART officials, with rail agency officials denying the city’s allegations they’ve been uncooperative on the matter.

In a declaration submitted with SMART’s motion to strike the city’s petition for an extension, SMART Chief Engineer Bill Gamlen said he was unaware of the city asking to discuss the matter, and unaware of his agency refusing to engage in talks.

SMART maintains its priority is safety and that a pedestrian crossing may create a hazard.

The tracks, which existed since the late 1800s, run north and south and split Jennings in half. Jennings runs east and west in a residential area west of Highway 101, and people once used a foot path to cross the rails and get from one side of the street to the other.

SMART fenced off the area in 2015 as a safety precaution ahead of its 2017 launch of passenger service.

In 2016, the utilities commission authorized Santa Rosa to develop a pedestrian and bicycle path across the tracks, but the authorization would expire in three years unless an extension was granted.

The city and SMART initially agreed to build a pedestrian crossing until SMART officials abruptly reversed their position in 2018.

From either side of Jennings, pedestrians have to walk a path that’s parallel to the tracks and takes them north to Guerneville Road. At Guerneville, they can cross the tracks at a controlled intersection and return south to the other side of Jennings.

Signs are posted advising people the trek is a half-mile long and takes 15 to 20 minutes.

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at colin.atagi@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @colin_atagi.

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