?With the recent approval of $82 million by the state to replace and widen the Highway 101 bridges over the Petaluma River, only a segment of the highway — from Petaluma Boulevard North down to the Marin County line — is left to be funded.?But where the needed $145 million to finish the project will come from, and when it will be available, remains unknown.

Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, says that currently the SCTA is optimistic that funds will be allocated to completing the highway expansion, but does not have an exact timeline.

"The money is yet to be found," she said.?"But it's our job to find it and though I'm not sure exactly how that's going to work out over the next few years, we will be dedicating ourselves to getting that project funded."

Widening Highway 101 through central and southern Sonoma County began in 2002 and has reached from Windsor to as far south as the northern boundary of Petaluma, with a segment to be completed in the fall in central Rohnert Park.

Directly south of Petaluma, construction is expected to get underway in the fall on a new Petaluma Boulevard South interchange as well as frontage roads that will eliminate the dangerous Kastania Road crossover which has been the scene of many serious accidents over the years. According to James Cameron, deputy director of projects and planning at the SCTA, construction on the Petaluma River Bridge projects should also begin this fall.

That just leaves the stretch of highway from the Petaluma Boulevard North exit down to the county line unfinished in the billion-dollar highway improvement project.

Smith said that in the past the SCTA has had success raising money through state bond programs and federal earmarks and that she is confident that the funds for widening the freeway in Petaluma and south will eventually come available. She added that both the state and federal government generally do not like leaving portions of projects unfinished and said that the fact that Highway 101 has been widened directly north and south of Petaluma puts them in good standing to receive money to finish the project when it becomes available.

Petaluma Vice Mayor Tiffany Renee, Petaluma's representative on the SCTA board, said that she believes the state is very interested in seeing the Highway 101 project completed, but that with the loss of redevelopment funds the remaining funds will probably need to come from other sources, including possible tax increases.

Sonoma County's Measure M, passed in 2004, is a quarter-cent sales tax that designates 40 percent of its revenue for Highway 101 expansion. Through the first seven years of the measure's 20-year shelf life, the tax has raised $121 million. Unfortunately, Smith said that all of the money raised, and all the future money raised by the tax, has already been spent or earmarked for spending on other Highway 101 expansion projects.

Renee said that there have been discussions to extend Measure M or to create a new sales tax measure in the future to finish the narrows widening, but added that there have been no solid decisions made on how or when to pursue either option.

When the county adopted Measure M, it became eligible to receive matching funds from state and federal sources, but since tax revenues from the measure have been fully committed, any matching state and federal money for future widening projects is no longer available.

Until the funds materialize, Petaluma commuters will continue to wonder when full traffic relief will come.?Cameron said that he hopes the entire Highway 101 expansion can be finished by 2021 and that the SCTA must compete for funding with other transportation projects throughout the state.

"The next phase up for funding is a section of Highway 101 bridge directly north of the Petaluma river, that goes over the railroad track and Highway 116 (Lakeview Highway)," he said.?"It is a $32.4 million-dollar project that is on the agenda to be allocated for funding later this month" by the State Transportation Commission.

Smith said that after funds are secured for that project, the next step would be to seek approximately $90 million to widen Highway 101 from Petaluma Boulevard North to the Marin County line.?

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)