The end is near for road construction

The road construction on two major thoroughfares in Petaluma, including East Washington Street west of Highway 101, and McDowell Boulevard at the site of the new Deer Creek Village shopping center, has picked up again following a slow-down for the holidays. If there is relief in sight, it can't come too soon for commuters.

Petaluma's Public Works and Utilities Department has been replacing the water main on East Washington Street in two stages that have spanned the past year. The first phase was finished just prior to the June dedication of the East Washington Place shopping center (commonly known as Target center, after its anchor tenant).

The second phase, which has been ongoing since August, has affected the area between Edith Street and the Petaluma River, but according to Capital Improvements Division Manager Larry Zimmer, "It's really the home stretch right now."

The construction work has been a headache to traffic headed downtown, including drivers leaving Highway 101 only to find closed lanes, flagmen and other obstacles.

"It is always an inconvenience to replace utilities, particularly when you're replacing the main and the services," said Zimmer. "That's the way it is. It's similar to, if you're going to gut your kitchen, you can't use your stove, your refrigerators in your living room -#8212; it's an inconvenience."

Zimmer added, "We're looking to finish by the end of January -#8212; give or take a week or two."

The $1.4 million water main project, funded by rate payers and part of the city's operating budget, involved removing two parallel 75-year-old cast iron water pipes and replacing them with a single 18-inch pipe made of PVC.

The third and final stage of the water main replacement project, on the east side of Highway 101 to Maria Drive, will probably begin during the city's 2014-15 fiscal year budget, which launches in June.

The blocked lane on McDowell Boulevard at the new Deer Creek Village shopping center should also open up in coming weeks, possibly by the end of this month. The right lane of southbound McDowell has been closed since early in the fall for the construction of new sidewalk adjacent to the shopping center.

Although a large flashing light has been displaying an ever-receding completion date -#8211; Nov. 25, Dec. 17, most recently, Jan. 15 -#8212; developer Merlone Geier Partners' Managing Director Greg Geertsen said, "If it's projected for Jan. 15, my guess is it'll be done sometime between Jan. 15 and Feb. 15."

One reason it's taking so long is that it's not just a sidewalk, according to the published plans for the business park, but a "10-foot wide bike/pedestrian lane." Other work involves a double landscape barrier and an overlay and repair of the right lane surface of McDowell itself.

The bike/pedestrian path will extend the length of the retail park and cross Deer Creek Village to connect with the pre-existing Lynch Creek Bike Trail. The bike path is one feature of a project that Geersten points out "has more open space, plazas around the buildings and landscape buffers than any project that's ever been built in Petaluma."

Deer Creek is anchored by a Friedman Home Improvement Center, marking the return to Petaluma of the company, which left town in 1976. The Friedman's building is close to completion, and Geertsen projects stocking the store will begin in about a month, with opening by the end of March.

Then construction will turn to buildings to be occupied by announced tenants City Sports, Togo's, Habit Burger and Mary's Pizza Shack.

"We do not build empty buildings," Geertsen said, meaning the buildings will be built as they are leased, not in advance of a contract.

"We're going to have buildings being built out here for two years, but the site work will be done when Friedman's opens," Geertsen said.

That site work includes not just the building pads, but the parking lot, landscaping, dog park, jogging and bike trails -#8212; and the sidewalk along McDowell.

(Contact Christian Kallen at argus.courier@arguscourier.com)