An unprecedented tsunami of development along Highway 101 in Sonoma County is putting thousands of people to work and pumping nearly $2 billion into the economy.
Up and down the spine of Sonoma County, more than a dozen big-budget projects are underway, creating or expanding centers for the arts, shopping opportunities, health care facilities, business offices, hotels, restaurants and a casino resort. The projects also will widen the freeway and pave the way for SMART, the commuter train system intended to eventually extend across the region.
"You'd have to go back at least a couple decades to find this kind of activity," said Keith Woods, chief executive officer of the North Coast Builders Exchange, a Santa Rosa trade group.
A snapshot of the massive investment along Highway 101 illustrates a broad array of projects funded by private developers, a Las Vegas gambling corporation and federal, state and local governments.
It includes enormous changes to Sonoma County's transportation infrastructure — vehicle and rail — construction of the area's first new hospital in more than two decades, train stations, a massive casino complex and two new big-box retail centers that will change the face of the south county.
"We're planning for the future with these projects," said Sonoma County Supervisor Mike McGuire, whose north county district includes much of the development. "Sonoma County is building a foundation that will ensure we're not only going to come out of this recession, we're going to be stronger than we were before."
Economic experts say the work can be viewed both as a sign of a recovering economy and a catalyst to additional investment, including transit-oriented developments near the train stations that will seek to capitalize on an influx of new customers being brought right to their doorsteps.
Many of the projects, including the shopping centers, the casino, SMART, and to a smaller degree the Caltrans road projects, overcame fierce opposition from those worried about environmental damage, water and sewer burdens, traffic congestion and government spending.
Costliest in county
The single largest, most expensive proposition along Highway101 is the Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park, which is estimated to cost $800 million, including the cost of the land.
It is the costliest project in Sonoma County history, topping the $312 million Warm Springs Dam, completed in 1983 (about $750 million when adjusted for inflation), the $250 million Geysers wastewater pipeline and the $233 million expansion of the Kaiser Permanente hospital in Santa Rosa three years ago.
Work on the 322,000-square-foot casino began last summer and is expected to finish this year.
The casino will offer 3,000 slot machines, making it the largest in the Bay Area. There will be scores of gambling tables, four restaurants and nine "quick-serve" dining outlets, bars, lounges and an events center for concerts. It will have a five-story parking garage for 5,500 vehicles.
A 200-room hotel is planned for the future. Developers have said the project will employ 900 construction workers and about 2,000 employees in a variety of jobs after it opens late this year.
70 miles of track
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit's $360 million commuter rail project is planned eventually to connect the North Bay from Cloverdale to the Larkspur ferry terminal. The project will encompass 70 miles of track, with an accompanying bike and pedestrian path and 14 train stations, to transport workers, residents and tourists throughout the area.