Petaluma awarded grant for McDowell fixes

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Petaluma on Monday received $551,000 to remake North McDowell Boulevard, a key east side thoroughfare that lacks safe crosswalks and sidewalks in places.

The grant from the Sonoma County Transportation Authority’s gas tax funds will allow Petaluma to complete the major reconstruction project by the end of 2022. An additional crosswalk or other safety improvement at Lagunitas Brewing Company could be part of the project if policymakers decide to add it.

The $3.9 million project spans McDowell Boulevard from Caulfield Lane to Old Redwood Highway, a stretch of road that sees 11,000 vehicles per day. It is designed to make the roadway safer for drivers and more friendly for cyclists and pedestrians at a time of new commercial and residential growth in the once industrial part of the city.

The work includes coordinating the 13 traffic signals along the corridor, repaving and striping the roadway from Old Redwood Highway to Sunrise Parkway, and building 38 new curb ramps. New sidewalks will be built between Old Redwood Highway and Corona Road, a stretch that includes several office and industrial parks and was not originally built with sidewalks.

“It’s a major thoroughfare. Lots of people use it,” said Petaluma City Councilwoman Kathy Miller, an SCTA board member. “It’s got a lot of problems.”

Jeff Stutsman, Petaluma’s senior civil engineer, said the work is known as a complete street project, since it tackles more than just repaving the asphalt. He said it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions as the signal coordination would improve traffic flow.

North McDowell Boulevard has seen significant development in recent years. Two hundred new homes are nearly complete at Brody Ranch on Corona Road and another 110 houses are proposed for the neighboring parcel with plans for a SMART train station.

Another 129 apartment units are planned for the Deer Creek shopping center, where commercial development has not yet been fully built out. SMART is also building a new crosstown bike path in the area starting at Southpoint Boulevard.

Lagunitas’ expansion at the north end of the street has attracted a slew of other craft beverage makers, transforming the industrial area with tasting rooms that attract tourists. Henhouse Brewing Company and Sonoma Coast Spirits are across McDowell from Lagunitas and 101 North Brewing Company and Griffo Distillery are two blocks away on Scott Street.

The 40 mph road’s proximity to alcohol vendors has prompted Petaluma officials to call for safety improvements at the intersection of Scott Street and McDowell Boulevard. It is not uncommon to see pedestrians darting across McDowell between Henhouse and Lagunitas.

Stutsman said the city would consider doing a safety improvement as part of the street project, although what form that would take could be up to elected officials.

“We would consider a crosswalk there,” he said. “We’ve go to look at all the elements and make sure that it’s safe.”

He said a crosswalk could include flashing lights and a pedestrian island in the middle of the road.

Miller said she would need to see more traffic studies to determine how to make safety improvements at the intersection. She cautioned that a crosswalk could give pedestrians a false sense of security, especially if drivers aren’t paying attention.

“A traffic light would be my preference,” she said. “There’s a better chance that people will stop at a light than a crosswalk.”

The grant Petaluma was awarded comes from the state gas tax increase known as SB1, which the city has relied on in the past two years to supplement its road repair budget. Several downtown streets and Sonoma Mountain Parkway were paved using SB1 funds, with a repave of Maria Drive planned for next year. The city received a federal grant to repave and reduce traffic lanes on Petaluma Boulevard South.

“The increased funding from SB1 is a huge help,” Miller said. “We’re very grateful to have that SB1 money. It’s making a big impact on some of our streets.”

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

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