Freeway relief to come soon

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It’s official — we got our $85 million.

The California Transportation Commission two weeks ago voted to allocate the money to Sonoma County’s Highway 101 widening project, providing the last piece of funding to complete the work through Petaluma.

If this sounds like a story you have heard before, it is. The CTC approved the $85 million last May when it doled out funds from the new state gas tax. The recent move, a bureaucratic formality, nevertheless officially appropriates the funds for the project to widen the freeway to six lanes from Corona Road to Lakeville Highway.

Construction is now set to begin in August and will wrap up in 2022, about two decades after transportation officials launched the project to widen Highway 101 from Windsor to Novato. It seems Sonoma County officials saved the best for last.

Petaluma residents have watched patiently as the widening work first progressed through Santa Rosa, then north toward Windsor and south through Rohnert Park and Cotati, before stopping at the northern fringe of Petaluma. Meanwhile, construction from the Petaluma River bridge south to the county line has continued apace, with that work set to wrap up at the end of this year.

The Petaluma project is significant for several reasons. First, it will ease a major bottleneck — how many times have you been cruising down the Cotati grade only to see dreaded brake lights up ahead at the Petaluma auto mall where the highway narrows to four lanes?

Second, it will add much needed sound walls, providing privacy for residents who front the freeway. You may recall the major fire that started along the freeway in 2016 and burned a strand of eucalyptus trees and several homes along the freeway, leaving the remaining homes exposed to rush hour traffic. Work has already begun to clear the way for the sound wall portion of the project, which will be built first.

Third, it will raise the freeway at the spot where Rainier Avenue is set to be extended. That long promised crosstown connector has been little more than a theory awaiting the freeway widening project. Now that the project is imminent, Rainier can finally become a reality — that is, if Petaluma can get creative with financing the roadway.

Fourth, it will redo the north and south off-ramps at East Washington Street. The on-ramps were reworked several years ago, and now the off-ramps will get straighter, requiring less urgency to slam on the brakes.

Fifth, it will complete the 30 miles of continuous carpool lane between Windsor and the county line, marking an end to Sonoma County’s portion of the $1 billion project. It is a clear, concrete example of voter approved transportation taxes at work. The project has relied on Sonoma County’s Measure M sales tax to attract state and federal funding, and, more recently, the state gas tax increase that voters last year approved in a referendum.

The final piece of widening the North Bay’s most important corridor, from the county line to Novato in Marin County, hinges on the availability of funding from a regional bridge toll increase that voters also approved last year. That measure is being challenged in court by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which contends the bridge toll increase was actually a tax and required a two-thirds vote to pass.

For the sake of North Bay commuters, we hope that case is resolved quickly and funding for Marin County’s last section of highway is appropriated so that we can enjoy one continuous carpool lane all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.

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