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Cotati donates land to improve deadly Highway 116 intersection

A donation of land by Cotati to the state will push forward a slow-moving plan to add left turn lanes at a Highway 116 intersection where fatal accidents provoked safety concerns.

Caltrans this week is to formally accept the land at Madrone Avenue and Highway 116, three years after two fatal accidents within a month injected new urgency into long-running efforts to improve the busy intersection.

"I know people think it's been moving slowly but for state highway work it's moved pretty quickly, so we're very excited it's going to happen," said Mayor Susan Harvey.

The intersection is just inside the western Cotati city limits. During the school year, it is particularly busy as lines of traffic form on the two-lane highway when people drive to and from an elementary school on Madrone Avenue.

Work is still a year off, though, with construction set to start in June 2013, said Councilwoman Pat Gilardi, who was campaigning for the changes well before the fatal crashes in 2009.

"I'm confident that it's actually going to take place," she said. "I wish it had happened a lot earlier and nobody had been killed there."

Serious discussions about improving the intersection began in October 2009 after Maria Juana Flores, 36, of Santa Rosa was killed when her car was rear-ended into the path of a big rig as she waited to turn left from the highway onto Madrone Avenue.

A month later a car was struck as it turned left from the highway onto Madrone Avenue. A passenger in that car, Casa Grande High School student Anais Barajas Centeno, 17, died a week later of her injuries.

The driver of the car in which Centeno was a passenger, Luz Maria Mejia-Perez, was convicted of vehicular manslaughter because she failed to yield to oncoming traffic.

Sign changes were made in 2010 to clarify speed limit zones. But on Wednesday residents who drive the road frequently said the turn lanes will be a vast improvement.

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