$2 billion in projects along Highway 101 put Sonoma County to work

  • Target signs go up at East Washington Place shopping center, Wednesday May 22, 2013 in Petaluma. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

An unprecedented tsunami of development along Highway 101 in Sonoma County is putting thousands of people to work and pumping nearly $2 billion into the economy.

Up and down the spine of Sonoma County, more than a dozen big-budget projects are underway, creating or expanding centers for the arts, shopping opportunities, health care facilities, business offices, hotels, restaurants and a casino resort. The projects also will widen the freeway and pave the way for SMART, the commuter train system intended to eventually extend across the region.

"You'd have to go back at least a couple decades to find this kind of activity," said Keith Woods, chief executive officer of the North Coast Builders Exchange, a Santa Rosa trade group.

A snapshot of the massive investment along Highway 101 illustrates a broad array of projects funded by private developers, a Las Vegas gambling corporation and federal, state and local governments.

It includes enormous changes to Sonoma County's transportation infrastructure — vehicle and rail — construction of the area's first new hospital in more than two decades, train stations, a massive casino complex and two new big-box retail centers that will change the face of the south county.

"We're planning for the future with these projects," said Sonoma County Supervisor Mike McGuire, whose north county district includes much of the development. "Sonoma County is building a foundation that will ensure we're not only going to come out of this recession, we're going to be stronger than we were before."

Economic experts say the work can be viewed both as a sign of a recovering economy and a catalyst to additional investment, including transit-oriented developments near the train stations that will seek to capitalize on an influx of new customers being brought right to their doorsteps.

Many of the projects, including the shopping centers, the casino, SMART, and to a smaller degree the Caltrans road projects, overcame fierce opposition from those worried about environmental damage, water and sewer burdens, traffic congestion and government spending.

Costliest in county

The single largest, most expensive proposition along Highway101 is the Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park, which is estimated to cost $800million, including the cost of the land.

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