Traffic woes may ease on East Washington Street

The northbound onramp at the East Washington Street highway interchange — a long awaited, key component of traffic relief at the chronically congested area — is nearing completion, according to transportation officials.

The new onramp is part of a $23 million overhaul of the East Washington Street interchange, and could be completed and open to drivers as soon as this fall or as late as mid-2014, depending on weather, officials said. It will replace the existing onramp on the south side of East Washington Street, which requires northbound drivers coming from McDowell Boulevard to make a left-hand turn to access the freeway, creating a huge traffic backups.

The new onramp will be on the northern side of East Washington Street behind Raley's. The onramp bridge has been completed, as well as the embankment, but the ramp itself still has to be paved, according to Allyn Amsk, spokesman for Caltrans.

Additional work on the interchange project includes realignment of the on- and off-ramps on the south side of the East Washington Street. Amsk said that the entire project is projected to be completed by September 2014, but called that date a "conservative" estimate.

Ongoing construction will require occasional nighttime closures, said James Cameron, spokesman for the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, which coordinates with Caltrans on local highway projects.

As that project, which began in December 2011, begins to wind down, another city project, to replace an aging water pipeline is beginning on East Washington Street and will run from Edith Street to the bridge over the Petaluma river, promising to bring more congestion to that stretch of road.

But while some lane closures and delays will continue, the worst may be over for East Washington Street drivers, who have been beset by traffic woes for more than a year.

The peak of road construction began last summer, when the city was replacing a section of water main running from Highway 101 to Edith Street, Caltrans was working simultaneously on the East Washington Street Highway 101 interchange and construction was in full swing at the newly opened East Washington Place shopping center, creating multiple road closures and slow-downs along the already congested street. Compounding that was railroad crossing work making way for the SMART commuter train.

"It was a mess, we know that," acknowledged Public Works Director Dan St. John. But now, he said, SMART has completed its work, the East Washington Place shopping center is open, much of the most intrusive work has been finished on the East Washington Street interchange, and traffic signals have been re-timed.

"We're hoping the community won't see anywhere near the impacts they saw last summer," St. John said.

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