It is now easier to get across Petaluma and safer to get on the freeway from East Washington Street, transportation officials declared Monday as they inaugurated a newly improved interchange through the heart of the city.
The $23 million East Washington Street interchange was completed 10 months early, even after the original source of funding for Petaluma's portion was wiped out by the state.
It is the first completed project on the Sonoma County side of the Sonoma-Marin Narrows project, which will eventually widen Highway 101 and improve access points from northern Petaluma to Highway 37 in Novato.
"This is another successful project delivered," said Bijan Sartipi, district director of Caltrans. "This project is ahead of schedule and within the budget. That is very important these days."
The project was due to open next August, but crews were able to move utility lines sooner than expected, said Caltrans spokesman Allyn Amsk. The improved interchange includes a realigned and wider northbound off-ramp and southbound on-ramp. The centerpiece of the project, a new northbound on-ramp for vehicles traveling west on East Washington, opened in September.
The project was funded partially through Sonoma County Measure M sales tax dollars, and the federal and state money that it leveraged. Petaluma had committed $4 million in redevelopment money, but the city lost access to those funds after the state did away with redevelopment agencies in 2011.
The city, claiming that the funds were already dedicated to an ongoing project, sued the state and lost. Instead, Petaluma is paying its portion of the project from development impact fees, Mayor David Glass said. Those fees are paid by developers of large, traffic-generating projects, such as the Target shopping center and the Friedman's Home Improvement store set to open next year.
"Development impact fees are the funds that backfill and pay for this project," Glass said.
Improved cross-town access long has been an issue in Petaluma, a city divided by Highway 101 with just five places to cross. In 1993, Janice Cader-Thompson and other Petalumans started lobbying for improvements on the East Washington Street overpass, the main east-west crossing and a frequent bottleneck.
Twenty years later, Cader-Thompson, who became a city councilmember and helped secure much of the funding for the project, was happy to see the payoff of her work.