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Petaluma Highway 101 bottleneck to get worse before getting better

  • The Highway 101 overpass of Highway 116 in south Petaluma will be widened as part of a $120 million in construction work intended to eliminate traffic chokepoints south of the city. (CONNER JAY / The Press Democrat)

The historically congested stretch of Highway 101 south of Petaluma is primed for work that eventually will widen the corridor and provide relief for what is known as the Novato Narrows bottleneck.

But don't get too excited, drivers.

The $120 million project, which really is two projects at once, will take three years and include temporary lane closures that at times will squeeze traffic to one lane in each direction.

And even when construction is done, the carpool lanes won't exist. Funding for them isn't yet available.

Still, at a groundbreaking ceremony Monday in Petaluma, local officials and transportation experts said starting work on the two projects is a huge step forward in the long-term widening of 101 from Windsor to Novato.

"What a momentous occasion," said Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, who represents the Petaluma area. The projects mean a safer highway, better transportation infrastructure and jobs, he said.

Overall, work on the 17-mile Marin-Sonoma Narrows, which Caltrans defines as Cotati to Highway 37 in Novato, is expected to cost $700 million, Caltrans estimates. Thus far, the northernmost and southernmost sections have been completed, leaving the thorny center stretch to be dealt with.

"It may be April Fools', but it's no joke that the project is commencing," said Sonoma County Transportation Authority Executive Director Suzanne Smith. "This has been more than a decade in the making."

This two-projects-in-one segment includes a $77 million contract for a new Petaluma Boulevard South interchange, new frontage roads and replacement of the dual Petaluma River bridges with one, six-lane bridge to accommodate future carpool lanes.

The nine-mile section between Novato and Petaluma, commonly referred to as the narrows, will be converted from expressway to freeway status by closing uncontrolled access. Wider frontage roads will feature bicycle access.

A $28 million contract will provide for the replacement of the northbound 101 overpass of Lakeville Highway/Highway 116 and widening the southbound span. The construction contracts do not include the previous land acquisition, design and engineering costs.

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