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Changes coming to fatal Cotati intersection, but when?

Local officials have pressed Caltrans to make safety improvements at a Cotati intersection that was the site of two fatal crashes last year. Now Caltrans says improvements will happen, but it is not clear when.

The changes at Madrone Avenue and Highway 116 will include new speed warnings and a left turn lane, Caltrans spokesman Bob Haus said.

The signage changes were promised in mid-December but have not been completed. Haus said he did not know when that work would begin.

As for the left turn lane, which was approved for construction, it will take at least several more months, Haus said.

“We're looking at next summer, if everything goes as planned,” he said.

The intersection is just inside the west Cotati city limits.

County and city officials began lobbying for changes in October after Maria Juana Flores of Santa Rosa was killed when her car was rear-ended and pushed into the path of a big rig as she waited to make a left turn from the highway onto Madrone Avenue.

Those efforts gained momentum after a similar crash in November, when a car was struck as it turned left from the highway onto Madrone Avenue. A passenger in that car, Casa Grande High School student Anais Barajas Centeno, 17, died a week later of her injuries.

The first changes to be made will be speed warning signs installed on each side of the intersection, Haus said.

One sign, west of the intersection, would warn eastbound drivers that a 45 mph zone is ahead. The other, reading “End 45 mph speed limit,” would replace a “55 mph” sign that faces westbound drivers and sits just west of the intersection.

Motorists familiar with the intersection said the signage changes will be welcome but the left turn lane will be the real improvement.

“Absolutely they need a left turn lane there, that would be the most beneficial thing they could do,” said Sienna Hornback, Rohnert Park resident who drives daily to Sebastopol on a route that takes her through the intersection.

County Supervisor Mike Kerns, whose 2nd district includes the fatal crash site as well Highway 116 between Cotati and Sebastopol, urged Caltrans to move quickly on the signage changes.

“I would hope that they get on it relatively soon because it's a relatively low cost improvement,” he said. “A left turn lane, yes, that's much more extensive, but just the signage that's relatively low cost.”

Haus said that the left turn lane plans are being prepared now, but that the agency is studying how to complete the project without too “invasive” a process requiring digging up the road, acquiring property or moving utility lines.

“Maybe we'll just restripe,” he said.

“Like every other project, you have to do it according to procedure,” he said.

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