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Petaluma infrastructure work fasttracked in shutdown

Several big public works projects have progressed in the Petaluma area despite the coronavirus shutdown. In some cases, work has even sped up as crews take advantage of fewer cars on the roads during the shelter in place order.

Most public works functions, including road work, keeping water and sewer pipes flowing and operating transit systems, were deemed essential in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order and allowed to continue with workers taking extra safety precautions.

One such project, paving a stretch of Highway 101 at the Petaluma Boulevard South interchange, was scheduled to take place in June, but transportation officials advanced the work to April because of the light daytime traffic.

“In Sonoma County, Caltrans typically waits until the summer for temperatures to be warm enough to pave at night,” said Jeff Weiss, Caltrans spokesman. “Caltrans expedited the projects to take advantage of light traffic and warm daytime temperatures, which are conducive to paving.”

The paving and lane striping work, which will continue into June, marks the last piece of a project to open up new carpool lanes from the Petaluma River to the Sonoma-Marin county line. The actual lanes opened in December, but Caltrans put off final paving until the weather was better.

Day work requires much less equipment and setup time, Weiss said.

Another highway widening project through Petaluma has steadily taken shape despite the outbreak. The contractor on the project, Ghilotti Construction, has adopted safety measures like social distancing and personal protective equipment, said James Cameron, director of projects and programming for the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.

Workers have paved the median from Corona Road to East Washington Street and are working on constructing a new dirt embankment that will carry the widened freeway over the railroad tracks and the future Rainier Avenue extension.

Sound wall work is continuing and should finish this year. The new lanes are on track to open by the end of 2022, Cameron said.

“They are aggressively pursuing delivery of that project,” he said.

Caltrans in April closed the new SMART bike path under the freeway to safely complete the construction work. The path will stay closed until 2023, according to Weiss.

Just north of Petaluma, another crew is working to stabilize the slide-prone hillside next to the freeway on the Cotati grade. That work, which causes occasional lane closures, should wrap up this summer, Cameron said.

Meanwhile, the Petaluma Public Works Department has continued to function with some modifications, according to Jason Beatty, the public works director.

City officials are preparing for a major overhaul of the potholed Maria Drive, which is set to take place in July.

“That’s exciting,” Beatty said. “We’re still moving forward with that project.”

City officials are also preparing for a much anticipated and long overdue dredging project in the Petaluma River. Beatty said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-led project is on track to start in August.

“That’s moving ahead nicely,” he said. “The permits are all in place.”

The dredging work, which involves a crane on a barge, is not very labor intensive so workers would be able to keep proper distancing if guidelines are still in place by then, he said.

Regular work at the Ellis Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant has continued, Beatty said. Staff has adjusted the schedule to minimize worker contact, he said.

With city parks closed for the past month, the maintenance load was light, although workers were able to take care of some vegetation management projects, Beatty said.

Petaluma Transit, which operates city buses, saw a 75% drop in ridership since the shutdown, Beatty said. The transit system received a $400,000 federal grant to make up for the lost revenue.

Most of the public works administrative staff are working remotely, Beatty said, including those planning for $3 million worth of improvement projects. Those contracts will likely to be awarded to local contractors, providing jobs at a time when unemployment is spiking.

“We’ll be getting people back to work when this is all over,” Beatty said.

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)

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