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Windsor roundabout project wins $2.8 million state grant

An ongoing roundabout project that will help transform how people get around downtown Windsor near a future passenger rail stop was buoyed this month by a highly sought-after state grant worth $2.84 million.

The transportation funding totals more than a third of the overall cost to build the traffic circle — the town’s third — at the intersection of Windsor and Windsor River roads, on the west side of Highway 101. The project makes way for rebuilt railroad tracks running through the middle, to serve SMART when it reaches town by the end of next year — just before the roundabout is due to be finished in January 2022.

The grant application for Windsor’s roundabout was among only a pair of projects statewide that the California Transportation Commission ranked in the uppermost tier for funding. It was also the only Sonoma County project to receive an award this cycle through the Local Partnership Competitive Program, which is supported by state gas tax dollars.

“Usually on these big projects, one or two cities get money for each year,” said Windsor Vice Mayor Sam Salmon, a board member for the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. “This time, boy, we got the lion’s share. Windsor came out smelling like a rose.”

More than 70% of the roundabout’s $8.1 million cost will be covered by grant funding, including a previous federal award of $3 million geared to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality. Windsor anticipates selling bonds totaling about $2.3 million to pay for the remainder of construction.

The roundabout will do away with the need for stoplights at the current four-way intersection southwest of Windsor’s Town Green. It will also add vehicle medians, and relocate and upgrade sidewalks with accessible ramps for people with disabilities. Bicyclists and pedestrians will have a separate path from vehicles through the busy crossroads.

The overall design is aimed to slow traffic through the area.

“It lowers not only the frequency of traffic accidents, but makes them so they’re not the high-speed, T-bone-type accidents at the intersection. If anything, they’re a minor sideswipe or rear end,” John Jaeger, Windsor’s acting public works director, said of the benefit of a roundabout. “It’s really just a safer intersection all the way around, not just for vehicles. Pedestrians are more aware, and not just relying on the signal system and crossing the road while looking at their phone. They’re engaged.”

Before the onset of pandemic shutdowns affecting work and school traffic, more than 22,000 vehicles passed through the intersection each day. Underground utilities were completed this year on the project, which is expected to cut down on commute hour backups and drive times, while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions from idling cars.

Windsor’s other two roundabouts are located on the west side of town as well, near the Town Green. Both run along Old Redwood Highway, at Windsor Road and at Market Street.

A pair of roundabouts also exist to the north in neighboring Healdsburg, including a similar city project with railroad tracks running through the middle that was largely completed in 2018 at a cost of roughly $12 million. Finishing touches were put on the five-way circle last year near the downtown plaza ahead of two more roundabouts planned at interchanges with Highway 101.

The city of Sonoma will install a roundabout of its own at the traffic jam-prone intersection of Highways 121 and 116. Construction of the $24 million project is expected to get underway in late 2022 with the help of a $19 million state grant announced in May. It is scheduled to be finished in summer 2024.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct captions for the spelling of photo contributor Tom Rennie’s name.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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