By JAKE MACKENZIE
Jake Mackenzie is chairman of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority and mayor of Rohnert Park.
Construction on Highway 101 has become something of a given these past few years. Since the first shovel turned in 2001 — 10 years ago now — progress has been made and phases are completed, but there remains some work to be done.
Since 2004, when Measure M was approved by 67 percent of Sonoma County voters, more than $720 million has been committed to the Highway 101 corridor. We have leveraged $140 million in local Measure M funds to access hundreds of millions in state and federal funding that never would have been available without our local tax.
As the construction from Windsor to the north end of Petaluma wraps up, the work in the Petaluma area and south will begin in earnest next year.
The Marin/Sonoma Narrows project, or “the Narrows,” that extends from Petaluma to Novato may seem at first glance to be moving ahead in an odd fashion. But there is a rationale — both from a traffic and safety perspective and a funding perspective.
As you may have seen, highway widening work has begun in Marin County which will extend the carpool lane and help move traffic through Novato. This will benefit drivers exiting the freeway in Novato and thus will reduce the number of cars lining up. This project used Marin County funds to leverage state funds and get under construction quickly.
In Sonoma County, two new projects will begin construction in the coming months — adding new onramps at the East Washington interchange and replacing the Petaluma Boulevard South Interchange and Petaluma River Bridge.
The East Washington interchange will be improved by building a new northbound entrance ramp that will enable cars coming from McDowell Boulevard to turn directly onto Highway 101. In addition, an improved southbound entrance ramp will be able to handle more cars.
The Petaluma Boulevard South interchange and Petaluma River Bridge project will create a new gateway into Petaluma while building frontage roads that connect to the interchange, allowing drivers to safely enter and exit the highway. It will also replace the two bridges that cross the Petaluma River with one wider bridge that will have a safer northbound approach and will accommodate a carpool lane in each direction.
In Marin County, construction at the Redwood Landfill will start next year to expand that interchange and build additional frontage roads, similar to what will take place at Petaluma Boulevard South.
At the county line, construction is scheduled for 2014 to replace the San Antonio Creek Bridge and improve that section of highway for better sight distance, flood prevention and carpool lanes.
As part of the new frontage road system, there will be a continuous bicycle lane, and where the roads end, a Class I bike path will be provided to enable cyclists to travel the entire distance between Petaluma and Novato.
As a result of these projects, the heavy lifting will be done — frontage roads, new bridges, curve corrections and interchanges. And all of this is great news, both in terms of more jobs and more improvements that will move people and goods.
However, we are still left with a gap. In order to complete the carpool lanes in Petaluma and across the county line, we need to secure approximately $250 million. This will not be easy given the lack of a federal transportation bill, the elimination of earmarks and the state of the California’s finances.
Less than 10 years ago, Measure M committed 40 percent of a 20-year, quarter-percent sales tax to Highway 101 improvements. We have seen sales tax revenues drop dramatically but have been able to take advantage of a positive bond market and low construction bids to keep our promise to voters. We’ve maximized local revenue by matching it with other funds by a ratio of more than five to one.
Unfortunately, there is no more local funding left to finish the Highway 101 work. Can we rely solely on the state and federal government, or should we be planning ahead to address this issue locally?
The Sonoma County Transportation Authority is grappling with this issue and is committed to working with all of our stakeholders and partners to finish the Highway 101 widening as soon as possible.