Ask the PAC: Redwoods felled to widen Highway 101 won’t be replaced

Nearly 1,000 of the giant trees were cut down to make way for extra freeway lanes.|

Ask the PAC

This weekly feature aims to get to the bottom of Petalumans’ burning questions and provide insight into vexing daily curiosities.

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It was only a matter of time before reader questions for our weekly Ask the PAC feature turned to some of the area’s largest thoroughfares: Highway 101 and other regional connectors.

The first question reignites a nearly decade-old controversy involving a 3.8-mile stretch of Highway 101 in Petaluma where hundreds of redwoods once lined the aptly named Old Redwood Highway.

The next explores a common curiosity about the digital signs the California Department of Transportation uses to communicate with drivers.

Question: Caltrans cut down nearly 1,000 redwoods along Highway 101 in Petaluma. Will those be replaced?

Answer: In order to install a sound wall along a 3.8-mile stretch of Highway 101, Caltrans felled 914 redwood trees, according to an environmental report connected with the project.

Jeff Weiss, a spokesman with the agency, confirmed via email last week that Caltrans will not replace those lost trees, citing a lack of space due to right-of-way constraints.

Although some of the redwoods were diseased, Weiss said most were healthy trees.

Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett, who in 2013 was the lone council member to push for a strongly worded missive to regional transportation authorities about the plan to cull redwoods, said she was disappointed but not surprised.

“We are all concerned about climate change and we know the benefits of trees in the heat islands that are our freeways,” Barrett said via text message.

The Highway 101 widening in Petaluma is part of the larger Marin-Sonoma Narrows project, a 20-year, $750 million project that will add north- and southbound carpool lanes to the highway between Highway 37 in Marin County and Corona Road.

Petaluma’s turn with tree removal followed a similar kerfuffle centered on a 1.4-mile stretch of Highway 101 to the north, from Cotati to Rohnert Park, where 140 trees were removed to install a sound wall.

During a 2007 Cotati forum on the project, resident Chuck Daymond landed a line for the ages:

“We've got Old Redwood Highway. This is going to be Old Sound Wall Highway,'' Daymond said.

Q: How does Caltrans come up with the abbreviations for cities or roads on its digital highway signage?

A: The short answer? They wing it.

“Caltrans does not have a style guide for abbreviations on its electronic message boards.” Weiss said. “Instead, our guiding principle is that messages be clear to motorists,”

Sometimes, that includes common abbreviations, such as “RD” for road. Sometimes, that means omitting vowels.

Can he explain STA ROSA?

“Regarding the ”STA“ abbreviation for Santa Rosa, we added an ”A“ to make it distinct since ”ST“ is a common abbreviation for street,” Weiss said.

Although there is no official guide, Weiss said there are three guiding principles, especially on the portable electronic message boards where space is at a premium.

Operators are asked to shorten words by using the beginning of the word, using “OAK”in place of Oakland, for example. They’re asked to remove all or most vowels, turning exit into “EXT,” and operators will often use the first and last letters of a word (examples include “RD” for road and “FT” for fort).

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