Frustration mounts over delayed Sonoma's Highway 12 roadwork

County officials are expressing frustration with Caltrans over the halting progress of a long-awaited Sonoma Valley street improvement project. But they also acknowledge that county planning errors have contributed to an ongoing delay.

The project is the second phase of a highway overhaul that is to install new sidewalks, lighting and bike lanes along the busy corrider just north of Sonoma, where residents, often schoolchildren, frequently have to walk on the edge of the heavily trafficked road.

The area is often known as The Springs — encompassing Agua Caliente, Fetters Hot Springs, El Verano and Boyes Hot Springs.

The county accepted bids from four companies on April 23, but in early May were forced to reject them. Officials said planning staff had erred in some work specifications, but also that Caltrans had not issued permits necessary for the work to start, as had been expected.

Early July is now the target for a new bid request to go out, said Sonoma County deputy director of road maintenance and engineering Tom O' Kane.

He put most of the responsibility for the delay on the state's transportation agency, saying it should have been able to act more promptly in granting an encroachment permit for the project, aspects of which have been discussed since the 1990s.

"I'm just hopeful that we can put some pressure on Caltrans and get that to happen," O'Kane said. "They've been dragging their feet for years on this. It's just unbelievable bureacracy; it never ceases to amaze me."

But he also said that a shortage of staff had contributed to mistakes in the request for bids; those involved "discrepancies" in the amount of materials calculated as being neccessary for the roadwork.

"We've had pretty severe cutbacks .<TH>.<TH>. we're in pretty dire straits," O'Kane said. "The one person that had managed the project from the beginning left at a key point, and we had no other staff person that could pick up as the lead person."

Caltrans officials said the county has yet to complete key steps including finalizing plans for moving utilities such as telephone, water and sewer lines.

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