Sonoma County gives go-ahead to reforestation along Highway 101 north of Santa Rosa

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Vestiges of the Redwood Highway are going to be restored north of Santa Rosa as the landscape around the Highway 101 and Airport Boulevard interchange, left largely devoid of trees as a result of road construction completed three years ago, is set to regain some of its forest cover through county plans approved this week.

The Board of Supervisors signed off Tuesday on a more than $510,000 contract through which a landscaping company will plant 176 oaks, redwoods and other trees on all sides of the interchange starting in May. Construction at the interchange in 2014 required workers to remove 680 trees, prompting concern from local residents about the loss of iconic redwoods along the highly traveled corridor.

The county has already planted more than 250 trees in the area by Mark West Creek and another nearly 1,300 trees at a county open space further upstream.

Standing in a treeless patch of green grass by the Airport Boulevard offramp Thursday morning, Supervisor James Gore, whose district includes the area, admitted people often do not think about a highway being “any degree of beautiful.” But he touted the long-awaited project, saying in a Facebook video that the area was “the gateway to Sonoma County” for travelers and promising it was “going to be beautiful again.”

“When the whole Airport Boulevard project got under way, I and many in the community were destroyed by the amount of trees that were removed from that area,” Gore said in an interview. “The fact that we’re able to go back in with native oaks, and also redwoods, and take a place that doesn’t look so good and restore it is a great thing for the community.”

The project includes planting 43 coast redwoods, 55 coast live oaks, 61 fruitless olive trees, 9 Italian cypress trees and 8 crape myrtle trees. After beginning work in May, workers are expected to finish the project by August, although the timing depends on when they are actually able to obtain the plants.

The county has had funding for the landscaping project in place for years but was not able to start the work sooner because of drought-related restrictions from the state, Gore said. Funding for the landscaping is coming through Measure M, a sales tax measure for transportation improvements approved by county voters in 2004.

For three years, the landscaping will be supported by irrigation pipes that will draw from recycled water in a temporary water tank off Mark West Station Road west of the freeway. At the end of that period, the county shouldn’t need to water the trees at all, said Susan Klassen, the county’s director of transportation and public works.

“They should be mature enough that they can survive the wet winter — dry summer thing,” Klassen said. “Because they’re species that typically thrive in the area without irrigation, they shouldn’t need any kind of permanent, ongoing irrigation once they’re established.”

The interchange construction three years ago included a wider Airport Boulevard overpass as well as expanded onramps and offramps in the area. Prior to its development, cars trying to exit there would often back up all the way onto the freeway, a problem Klassen attributed to thriving business parks in the area.

“It just created so many trips of people coming in and out of that area for work that it became a real problem,” Klassen said. “The interchange solved it.”

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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