'The Springs' delighted by coming improvements along Highway 12

Long-planned improvement projects along Highway 12 in Sonoma Valley are edging forward, delighting residents and business owners in Agua Caliente, Fetters Hot Springs, El Verano and Boyes Hot Springs.

The upgrades include lane widening, lighting, sidewalks and bike lanes along the busy traffic and pedestrian corridor just north of Sonoma.

"Finally, finally," said Gina Cuclis, a Boyes Hot Springs resident and former county supervisorial candidate who has been active since the early 1990s in efforts to improve the area's infrastructure.

Many of the improvements, set to begin this year, are part of a highway overhaul that has been on the drawing board for decades and has been built piecemeal over the years, starting on the northern edge of Sonoma.

Much of the work yet to be done was nearly derailed when the state eliminated redevelopment agencies in 2012, freezing the main source of local funding for the project.

"It was very frustrating with nothing going on," Cuclis said. "The fact that it is moving along is very satisfying."

One project would widen the highway by adding a third lane, replace some of the dozens of trees that were removed this month and install benches, bicycle lanes and streetlights.

It is to stretch for about a mile and is expected to cost about $5 million in former redevelopment funds derived from property tax receipts.

Almost simultaneously, another county project is forging ahead. It would put in additional improvements and address public transportation needs along the highway corridor. It is funded initially by a $450,000 grant from the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.

A planning consultant is expected to be hired this spring to work with county officials and area residents to brainstorm and sketch out the changes, said First District Supervisor Susan Gorin, who sought the planning grant.

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