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East Washington Street traffic delays may last years

Motorists navigate through a series of construction projects along East Washington Street in Petaluma on Thursday, July 26, 2012.

BETH SCHLANKER/ PD
Published: Friday, July 27, 2012 at 1:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 27, 2012 at 1:13 p.m.

Even on good traffic days, East Washington Street near Highway 101 in Petaluma is heavily congested. Sometimes making it through the intersection at McDowell Boulevard takes more than one signal cycle.

But now, in an unusual confluence of projects, drivers along one of Petaluma's busiest stretches of road have three construction projects to maneuver through to get across town.

And some are not happy about it.

"It just took me 45 minutes to get from one side of town to the other," grumbled one aggravated driver who didn't give his name.

The largest project is the Caltrans reconstruction of the East Washington interchange with Highway 101, including north- and southbound on- and offramps.

Traffic lanes leading up to the ramps are being intermittently closed or narrowed as construction vehicles and workers prepare for changes.

The work also has closed the sidewalk overpass for pedestrians and bicyclists and removed dozens of redwood trees along the freeway.

The work is causing vehicle backups on both sides of 101, creating long queues during the busy morning, lunch and evening rushes.

That work is expected to last more than a year.

Nearby, just west of 101, pavement is being torn up for grading and site work for what will be the city's largest shopping center, East Washington Place. That work could take the better part of a year.

Add to all of that, the city of Petaluma just started a water-main replacement project along East Washington closer to downtown. That work will be done in three segments, with the initial phase lasting until mid-November.

"Yes, we did go ahead with the work on the water main knowing these other projects were going on," said city engineering manager Larry Zimmer. "We gave it some forethought and decided it could work out. It actually doesn't make it that much worse given the other projects going on."

Tell that to frustrated motorists, who line up 15 cars deep trying to squeeze into one lane while trying to get in position to go over 101 or get onto the freeway.

"This is nuts. I can't wait for it to be done," said driver Donna Moran near Edith Street.

"It's a bit of a mess," Zimmer acknowledged. "Ideally, this wouldn't have been the way to do it, but that's the way it worked out."

The 101 interchange project is all-encompassing, and the shopping center's schedule is out of the city's control, he said.

"We can't work around that," he said. "When you have a two-year project, you can't hold off on other work."

The $1.4 million water main project involves removing two 75-year-old water pipes buried along the edges of East Washington and replacing them with one larger main.

The first phase includes a half-mile of pipe along East Washington from Edith Street to the highway. The second phase, from Edith to the Petaluma River, could start in the spring. The final phase, from 101 east to Maria Drive, likely will begin in 2014.

Zimmer said he understands drivers' frustration. "We're doing everything we can to get that time frame shortened," he said.

Contact Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.

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