There’s no shortage of news for commuters. What’s harder to find are actual answers about what will make it easier to get from point A to point B. The widening of the Novato Narrows will likely take a decade and is now priced at a cool $800 million, according to the latest reports. Meanwhile, SMART folks are trying to figure out what bells and whistles might persuade Marin to get onboard the train.
The Narrows, a brutal, four-lane stretch of highway linking Marin and Sonoma, has long been a bottleneck for commuters—as well as a dangerous roadway that’s taken far too many lives over the years. Politicians in both counties want to widen the 17-mile section of Highway 101, but the project is highly expensive and doesn’t enjoy broad support in the environmental community. Employers in Marin (as well as their employees doing the daily grind) would like to see the project finished as of yesterday. But less than $250 million of the project funding has been identified.
SMART has elected to revisit its environmental impact report (EIR), which drew fire for incomplete data. The rail agency has decided a pragmatic approach makes sense, especially since the tax measure to put the train on the track was derailed by Marin voters in the last election. The 2006 campaign for passage in Marin was not unlike a stealth operation, which is fine when you’re attempting to politically sink something and you don’t want fingerprints left behind. But when you’re seeking to put a commuter rail into a county where the train’s been linked to growth in much the same way Barry Bonds is linked to flaxseed oil, you need something high profile and persuasive—something that answers the age-old question, “What’s in it for me?”
In a perfect world, the idea that a commuter rail would not only take cars off the Highway 101 parking lot, but also do something positive for the environment, would be enough. But the political reality is, SMART passed with flying colors in Sonoma, but there’s vocal opposition in Marin, and the measure requires two-thirds of the voters in both counties to say yes to a sales tax increase.
It looks like SMART is making a move, juicing the EIR with more bike and pedestrian money in the first phase of the project, as well as adding flexibility to the location of the Novato South Station. The project doesn’t enjoy much love in Novato, so the later move is designed to win hearts and minds.
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