SCTA Year in Review – 2019
2019 was a year of milestones reached and new beginnings for the next era of transportation in Sonoma County. A major milestone came with the full funding of safety improvements and carpool lanes for Highway 101. The transformation of 101 was the backbone of the original Measure M, the ¼-cent transportation sales tax passed in 2004, and has helped improve travel in Sonoma County for nearly all drivers.
The most recently completed section of Highway 101 runs from Petaluma to the Marin County line. Construction started in 2012 with drivers able to use the new carpool lanes starting in late 2019. Construction began recently on the final section of widening north of Petaluma, which will complete the vision set in 2004 — leveraging $5 of support from outside Sonoma County for every $1 from the local sales tax.
Measure M also supported a number of local road projects last year, from filling potholes to key intersection improvements. In 2019, the Measure M Bicycle and Pedestrian program prepared to fund improvements to the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, access across 101 in Rohnert Park, and bicycle safety (including Safe Routes to Schools and Bike to Work activities).
The SCTA kicked off the next update to Sonoma County’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP) in 2019. The SCTA updates the CTP every five years to ensure that the plan is relevant, useful, and represents the community’s transportation needs. The new plan, called Moving Forward 2050, will look at transportation and projects over the next 30 years. As part of the kickoff, the SCTA worked with community based organizations to discuss transportation needs with under-represented members of the community as well as the general public and other stakeholders. SCTA will share a draft plan later this year, with the final plan expected in 2021.
Public transit continued to evolve in 2019 in order to meet community needs and reach local goals. Sonoma County Transit began operating fare free routes in Cloverdale, Guerneville, Monte Rio, and the Sonoma Valley. These routes joined existing fare free routes in Sebastopol, Healdsburg, and Windsor; and helped increase cumulative ridership by 46% along the “Fare-Free” routes during fiscal year 2019.
Both Sonoma County Transit and Santa Rosa CityBus moved forward with the transition to battery electric buses last year, with one already in service and several more on the way. They were joined by Petaluma Transit and Mendocino Transit in developing a joint engineering study to find better charging strategies for additional electric buses. Another study completed in 2019 provided recommendations for Sonoma County bus transit operators to provide a better customer experience, and improve operating and financial efficiencies through better coordination.
The SMART train ended the year by extending service to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal — providing a new transit link between San Francisco and the Sonoma County Airport. SMART also opened a new stop in Downtown Novato and will start construction on the extension to Windsor in 2020. The SCTA team is partnering with colleagues in Marin to roll out a bikeshare system in 2020 that will offer shared bicycles along the SMART corridor in both counties.
The SCTA worked on several programs that support transit usage in 2019. SCTA staff worked with the County of Sonoma to launch the Clean Commute Program that allows employees to set aside pre-tax income to pay for cleaner modes of transportation to and from work, including discounted monthly SMART passes and vanpools. The team also continued the Emergency Ride Home program, which reimburses rides home in case of an emergency for anyone who works in Sonoma County and uses an alternative transportation option.
The SCTA helps distribute and manage funding programs that enable important transportation improvements across Sonoma County (including the Transportation Fund for Clean Air, Transportation Development Act Article 3, One Bay Area Grant, and various transit funding documented in the Coordinated Claim). One of the local programs funded by these sources is the Safe Routes to School program, which organizes educational activities to get more families safely walking and biking to and from school.
Highway 37 continues to be a priority; with congestion and sea level rise predicted to increase along the vital route between Marin, Sonoma, Solano, Contra Costa and the Central Valley. SCTA worked with partners on near term solutions in 2019, including paving and drainage improvement to prevent winter flooding, as well as new programs to reduce congestion. At the same time, the work continues to implement a long-term plan that ensures Highway 37 will remain an effective route in the face of rising sea levels.
This new decade is an opportunity to further our goals of a sustainable and seamless transportation network that integrates roads, transit, and active transportation for all Sonoma County residents. The Moving Forward 2050 plan will provide the roadmap on how we will get there, and in November when Measure M is put forward for reauthorization, we will be able to implement an updated set of transportation solutions.