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Bumpy stretch of Highway 101 north of Windsor to get repair

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 | Posted by

BY MATT BROWN

Highway 101 looking south from Limerick Lane, Tuesday Aug. 19, 2014. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2014

Highway 101 looking south from Limerick Lane, Tuesday Aug. 19, 2014. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2014

Motorists driving on Highway 101 between Windsor and Geyserville, a bone-jarring stretch of road long ranked as one of the worst in the Bay Area, are set to receive some much-needed relief.

After more than a year of lobbying by Sonoma County transportation officials, Caltrans is in line to receive $67 million to repave 14 miles of Highway 101 north of Windsor. The California Transportation Commission is expected to award the funding at its meeting today.

The project aims to repair an outdated concrete surface that, while traveled by far fewer commuters than other stretches of highway south of the county’s major cities, has grated on motorists and transportation officials long enough to make it a state priority. The move comes after more than $1 billion has been spent south of Windsor to remake the transportation landscape in the southern two-thirds of Sonoma County, including highway expansion and interchange projects and a future commuter rail line.

North county officials said the highway upgrade was long overdue.

“As anyone who drives this corridor knows, your teeth start to rattle as soon as you head north of Windsor,” said Supervisor Mike McGuire, a Sonoma County Transportation Authority board member. “Repairing this stretch of highway will make it safer for commuters and, after 30 years of a bumpy ride, fix one of the worst stretches of highway in the North Bay.”

The project, set for construction in 2016 after design work and environmental review, will replace the four lanes of potholed concrete with a smooth layer of asphalt. Caltrans spokesman Allyn Amsk said the roadway was built more than three decades ago using concrete, which generally lasts longer.

But the road has apparently reached the end of its life span. City and transportation officials say the project will help boost tourism and commerce in northern Sonoma County.

“How many of us travel north of Windsor when all of a sudden you hit that same bloody pothole and your head hits the ceiling?” said Cloverdale Mayor Carol Russell, a board member on the transportation authority. “We need good infrastructure for a good economy. It’s essential.”

The funding comes from the State Highway Operations and Protection Program, which uses federal and state gas tax revenue to maintain the state highway system. The allocation does not require a local funding match, meaning money from Measure M — the local sales tax increase voters approved in 2004 for road and highway projects — will not have to be tapped for the upgrade.

The state funds cannot be used for what is arguably the region’s top highway priority — the ongoing widening of Highway 101 through the Sonoma-Marin Narrows, a much more heavily traveled stretch that currently faces a $250 million shortfall. According to Caltrans, 85,000 cars per day travel through the Narrows compared with 48,000 north of Windsor and 28,000 north of Healdsburg.

Likewise, the money cannot be used to repave ailing county roads, which have deteriorated under a chronic funding shortfall in the past decade or more. County officials hope that a quarter-cent sales tax measure, proposed for the March 2015 ballot, will provide a new source of revenue to erase the $268 million maintenance backlog for roads in the unincorporated area.

Windsor Councilman Steve Allen, a county transportation authority board member, said the Highway 101 funding comes after dozens of meetings, phone calls and letters between state and local transportation officials. He said many residents from northern Sonoma County have watched in envy as improvements have progressed over the past decade on Highway 101 from central Windsor south to Novato.

“We’ve been pushing this for quite awhile,” he said. “It’s been painfully obvious when the paving project going south went into place. As soon as you cross that line, you get bumped and jolted.”

“That line” is the Old Redwood Highway overpass in central Windsor, where the new asphalt carpool lanes begin going south and the muffler-rattling concrete slabs head north through the less populated and traveled part of the county.

The paving project will start at that overpass and work north to the Canyon Road offramp in Geyserville. Workers will grind up the four lanes of concrete, use it as a base and lay down asphalt on top.

Work is expected to kick off in spring 2016 with completion estimated for fall 2017.

Drivers could see lane closures and delays during the project, McGuire said.

“Motorists can expect some short-term pain for long-term gain,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 ormatt.brown@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pdroadwarrior

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Deborah Serval is our Geyserville correspondent.
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