Highway 101 tree replacement won't include redwoods

The Redwood Highway may need a new name.

Sonoma County transportation officials are planning to pump nearly $5 million into landscaping projects along Highway 101, but will likely not plant any of the majestic redwoods that gave the route its nickname.

Thousands of trees, including hundreds of redwoods, have been cut down to make way for carpool lanes along the highway from Windsor to the county line south of Petaluma.

The Sonoma County Transportation Authority on Monday will unveil its plan to replant the 101 corridor that was torn up during construction and remains a barren eyesore in places.

The redwoods removed along the highway are not native to that part of Sonoma County, said James Cameron, deputy director of projects at the SCTA. They were planted when the highway was built in the 1950s and require a lot of maintenance to survive.

"Right now, Caltrans does not plan to plant redwoods," Cameron said. "All of the redwood trees that have been cut down were part of the original highway landscaping. They are not native."

The county plan would focus landscaping efforts on key locations at Airport Boulevard south of Windsor, between Highway 12 and Steele Lane in central Santa Rosa and at the southern gateway to Petaluma. The projects, costing a total of $4.7 million, will be paid for through state transportation funds and local sales tax money.

The SCTA plan would make an additional $200,000 available for cities to plant trees along the highway in their jurisdictions. Windsor, Rohnert Park, Cotati and Petaluma are the cities most likely to participate in the program, according to the plan.

Funding for landscaping along the full 29-mile corridor remains $13 million short, according to the SCTA plan. Officials say they will continue to look for sources of funding to finish the landscape project while also trying to fund the highway widening project, which has a $125 million shortfall.

Supervisor Mike McGuire, who serves as the SCTA's chairman and also is a member of its tree committee, said he will lobby for replanting some redwoods along the corridor.

"Residents were devastated and I was devastated regarding the removal of redwood trees along the 101," he said. "The redwoods are iconic for Sonoma County. I hope that we can focus on the strategic planting of redwoods in appropriate locations. I hope they can be part of our future."

Officials have not identified the specific species to be planted, but some examples of native plants listed in the landscape plan include bigleaf maple, California buckeye, ash and coast live oak.

Jeff Sargent, a landscape designer with Creative Environments in Sebastopol, said highway landscaping should be low-maintenance, aesthetically pleasing and good at controlling erosion.

"There is a list of criteria that a landscape designer would try to achieve," he said. "On an embankment, you want good ground cover to prevent erosion."

Much of the current highway construction has centered on Petaluma. Crews have ripped out trees at all four Petaluma interchanges to construct soundwalls, widen overpasses and improve freeway ramps.

The city has been vocal in lobbying for landscaping at the southern end of the 101 corridor, said councilman Mike Harris, Petaluma's representative on the SCTA.

"We bore the brunt of a lot of the construction," he said. "We're looking forward to replacing a lot of trees."

(You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com.)