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CrimeBeat: Roads open, yet rubbernecking and displacement shape traffic trends

A PG&E linesman prepares to string power line across Highway 101 and restore electricity to parts of north Santa Ros on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. (ALVIN JORNADA/ PD)

NICK RAHAIM,

CrimeBeat Q&A is a weekly feature where reporters answer readers’ questions about local crimes and the law.

I’ve noticed traffic has gotten heavier around Santa Rosa since the fires. Why is this? Are road closures still affecting traffic?

Traffic has changed in and around Santa Rosa since devastating fires hit more than three weeks ago, but road closures were only part of the issue. And they won’t be any longer.

Wednesday, all roads previously closed to through traffic in Sonoma County and Santa Rosa will be open. But traffic isn’t expected to go back to normal anytime soon.

New traffic flows have been created by thousands of people relocating after fire ruined their homes, and drivers reducing speed on Highway 101 to gawk at burn areas is a continuing issue, law enforcement officials said. Anecdotally, traffic slowdowns along the north-south corridor have been from Marin County through north Santa Rosa.

Major slowdowns on Highway 101 in north Santa Rosa over the past weeks are mostly attributed to “rubbernecking through the burn areas,” said CHP spokesman Jon Sloat.

At first, CHP thought the slowdowns from the Hopper Avenue exit in Santa Rosa north to Windsor were from exit closures, Sloat said, but when they reopened, traffic remained heavy.

Congestion on Highway 101 was concentrated from Highway 12 to River Road before the fires, Sloat said. Now, the heavy traffic has moved to between Steele Lane and Shiloh Road.

“We’re not seeing more traffic, just a shift were the slowdowns are occurring,” Sloat said, noting slowdowns often lead to collisions. The fires basically skewed crashes north.

From Oct. 9-26 there were 22 crashes on Highway 101 from Shiloh Road to Steele Lane, with only minor injuries. That is a “normal” number of collisions for Santa Rosa, Sloat said, which averages about 20 during a three-week period.

What’s not normal is where they occurred.

There was an average of 11.7 collisions over three-week periods from July to September between Steele Lane and Shiloh Road, Sloat said. That number nearly doubled in October in north Santa Rosa, while crashes between the Hopper Avenue exit and the Highway 12 turnoff fell.

“People have been displaced from burn areas, (and) traffic is changing because people are now living or staying in different places,” Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Summer Black said. “That won’t change quickly.”

Submit your questions about crime, safety and criminal justice to Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or nick.rahaim@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nrahaim.