Construction will soon get underway to unclog one of the city's most notoriously congested arteries — Santa Rosa Avenue near Costco.
Traffic near the Santa Rosa Marketplace, one of the city's busiest retail centers, backs up onto surrounding roads and onramps as shoppers flock to big box stores like Costco, Best Buy, and Target.
Add rush hour and holiday shopping into the mix and the already overwhelmed roadway quickly turns into total gridlock.
But beginning in January, Santa Rosa Avenue will be widened from Yolanda Avenue, near the site once eyed for a Lowe's Home Improvement Center, two blocks north to Kawana Springs Road, which forms the southern border of the Santa Rosa Marketplace.
From there north, the road won't be widened, but it will be restriped to improve traffic flow in and out of the shopping center and around the intersection at Baker Avenue, which serves as the northbound Highway 101 onramp.
"It's going to be such an improvement for the community," said Colleen Ferguson, deputy director of public works. "It's a great project."
The work is the second portion of a three-phase effort to one day widen Hearn Avenue over Highway 101. The two-lane overpass is woefully undersized, often causing traffic to back up onto the avenue as well as southbound Highway 101.
The first phase of work involved widening Hearn Avenue between Dutton Avenue and Corby Avenue, which was completed several years ago.
The current work involves adding travel, turn and bicycle lanes to improve the capacity of a 1,200-foot stretch of Santa Rosa Avenue near the Hearn Avenue intersection.
Elements include a second left-turn lane from Kawana Springs Road to Santa Rosa Avenue; a right-turn lane from northbound Santa Rosa Avenue to Kawana Springs; a second left-turn lane from northbound Santa Rosa Avenue to Hearn Avenue; and a second left-turn lane from southbound Santa Rosa Avenue to Yolanda Avenue, and extension of the southbound right-turn lane on to Highway 101.
A new computerized traffic monitoring system will also be installed, as will sidewalks and landscaping. Total cost of this phase is $11.9 million. Work is expected to be concluded by November 2015.
With those two phases complete, the stage will be set for the eventual widening of the overcrossing and rebuilding of the interchanges, a project estimated to cost about $40 million.
The overall project has long been considered vital to the future development of southwest Santa Rosa by linking the residents of the historically fast-growing area with one of the city's key retail districts.
Earlier this month, the City Council awarded a $6.1 million construction contract to a joint venture between Ghilotti Brothers of San Rafael and TerraCon Pipelines of Healdsburg.
The city has spent several years acquiring property and moving underground utilities to prepare for the widening.
"Just acquiring the right of way was a huge task," Ferguson said.
In one case, the city had to use its powers of eminent domain to acquire and demolish a small used car dealership, called Dib's Auto Sales, at the corner of Kawana Springs Road, against the owner's wishes.
To reduce the effects on businesses and residents in the area, the contractors will be required to keep access open to driveways at all times, Ferguson said.
In addition, the city has set up a special Web page explaining the project and throughout construction will send email updates to anyone who signs up for them, she said.