Highway 101's 'Big Pave' to get underway in Healdsburg

Highway 101 from Windsor to Cloverdale runs in a fairly straight line. Apparently, repaving the roadway will not.

Even as officials gathered Friday in Geyserville to celebrate the start of the long-anticipated “Big Pave,”confusion persisted over where the first phase of the work will happen.

The bottom line? It won’t start along the stretch everyone acknowledges as the worst of the worst: the section of potholed freeway from Windsor to Healdsburg. Instead, crews will begin in Healdsburg and head north.

At Friday’s groundbreaking on a frontage road in Geyserville, State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said Caltrans had adjusted plans and would be starting the paving in Windsor after fielding complaints about the work not initially covering the worst stretch of road.

But Caltrans officials later in the day said the work will begin May 21 where they originally announced it would, near the Dry Creek Road offramp in Healdsburg. From there, the paving will go north to the Canyon Road offramp in Geyserville and then leapfrog down to Windsor and back up to Healdsburg.

McGuire said he could not explain the discrepancy over the project’s starting point. He emphasized that wherever the project starts, the end result will be relief for long-suffering motorists.

That includes along the Windsor-to-Healdsburg stretch, which an aide to the senator noted is in the first phase of the paving project.

“After nearly three decades of waiting for the North County corridor to be repaved, the bottom line is that the worst stretch of the dilapidated pavement will be reconstructed and repaved in coming months,” McGuire said.

McGuire hosted Friday’s “golden shovel” event attended by several Sonoma County supervisors, officials from the North County’s three largest cities, Caltrans representatives, CHP, Cal Fire and Miss Sonoma County, who donned a crown for the occasion.

In his public comments, North County Supervisor James Gore noted California can’t continue to defer maintenance on roads and highways without “kicking the can down the road into a pothole.

“Everyone is pissed off,” Gore said, “including us.”

The so-called Big Pave represents one of the largest infrastructure projects in north Sonoma County since the early 1960s, when traffic was transitioned off Old Redwood Highway and onto the current corridor.

The $74 million in funding for the first phase of the paving work comes from state and federal gas taxes funneled through the State Highway Operations and Protection Program. No local monies are being tapped, including from Measure M, a local sales tax increase voters approved in 2004 for road and highway projects.

But while motorists undoubtedly will benefit from the smoother road, where to focus attention first has been a concern.

“Did anyone planning this project ever drive the highway, or did they just throw a dart and decide ‘Let’s start here?’ Healdsburg resident Dennis Eckman wrote in a letter to the editor that appeared Sunday in The Press Democrat.

The reason the work is starting in Healdsburg is because the contractor - DeSilva Gates Construction - is first addressing an existing median barrier in that area, according to Alejandro Lopez, a Caltrans spokesman.

Under the schedule, once crews complete paving work on the northbound lanes, they will head to the southbound side, and pave from Healdsburg to Windsor.

The first phase of the project will wrap up by completing the section from Geyserville to Healdsburg, currently timed for fall 2018.

The second phase of the work from Geyserville to Cloverdale is not slated to begin until 2020. The project, which also includes upgrades to culverts and other infrastructure, encompasses about 50 miles of highway and will cost $160 million.

Caltrans said the paving work will be done from ?11 p.m to 5 a.m. to minimize impacts on motorists.

Still, the work will entail detours and noise from crews grinding up the concrete, which is to be used as a base layer for 6 inches of asphalt.

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