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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.

The Press Democrat Poll

The Press Democrat Poll asked registered voters three questions related to legalization of recreational marijuana, approved by California voters in November 2016.

Complete the following statement: I would feel safe with a legal outdoor cannabis farm one acre or less in size
Adjacent to my residence: 19%
Not adjacent but within one mile of my residence: 31%
I would not feel safe with a cannabis farm within any proximity to my residence: 46%
Don’t know: 3%
Prefer not to say: 1%

Do you believe cannabis should be grown:
Anywhere outside: 22%
Outside but only in agricultural areas: 36%
In warehouses: 23%
All cultivation should be prohibited: 12%
Don’t know: 6%
Prefer not to say: 1%

Do you believe California’s legalization of recreational cannabis use, and its new regulations for cannabis-related business activities will increase, decrease or have no effect on crime in the area?
Increase: 35%
Decrease: 18%
No effect: 40%
Don’t know: 6%
Prefer not to say: 1%

"It's going to be a mess while we're doing it, but it'll make it a lot better," Mayor Scott Bartley said.

Some businesses at the southern end of the project area are already concerned about access issues during and after construction. "It's going to be a disaster," predicted Dan Berry, owner of Cartronics just north of Yolanda.

Currently southbound drivers can turn left into his driveway. But the project will be adding a median strip that will prevent them from doing so, Berry said. This will force them to make elaborate u-turns just to find his business, he said.

"My issue is what will the impact will be on people's ability to access my store?" Berry said.

He's leery in part because the project has already affected his car audio sales and installation business. Last year, when a city contractor relocated a storm drain in front of his showroom they failed to hook up a culvert that drained an adjacent field.

After the first rain, the field flooded and six inches of water spilled into his showroom, causing $170,000 in damage, he said.

Jesus Ochoa, owner of neighboring Quality Motors, also has access concerns. He knows medians are designed to improve traffic flow by reducing the number of motorists turning across oncoming traffic, but he can't see how that will help businesses.

"There may be more traffic going by, but there will be less coming here," Ochoa said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater.)

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