Workers will begin cutting down trees along Highway 101 at Airport Boulevard today to make way for a new interchange meant to ease the morning snarl.

That interchange is one of the most heavily used in Sonoma County, serving the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport and 6,000 workers in adjacent business parks.

The crush of traffic during the morning commute frequently causes delays and backups that stretch onto the freeway.

"It is a much-needed project," said James Cameron, Sonoma County Transportation Authority's deputy director of projects and programming.

The new interchange, costing $34.5 million, is scheduled to be completed in late 2014.

Atlas Tree Surgery of Santa Rosa will remove about 600 trees and shrubs beginning today, including some redwoods. All of the trees in that area were planted when the freeway was first constructed, Cameron said.

Ghilotti Construction of Santa Rosa was the low bidder on the construction project at $28.7 million. Work is expected to begin in June.

The new diamond-shaped interchange will feature longer and wider on- and off-ramps that, along with new stoplights and improvements to Airport Boulevard, should help relieve commute-hour congestion.

The new interchange also will require the closure of the onramps and offramps to Fulton Road, although the overpass itself will remain.

New trees will replace the old. Workers will plant 200 trees around the new interchange, 700 willows along Mark West Creek, and 1,000 willows and 260 other trees at Cresta ranch, which is owned by the Sonoma County Agriculture Preservation and Open Space District.

Funding for the interchange includes $22.2 million in state bond money, about $10 million in development fees from airport-area businesses and the remainder from Sonoma County's Measure M sales tax.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or