Groundbreaking for Hwy. 12 sidewalk project

October 20, 2008 7:02:45 PM PDT
There was a groundbreaking Monday in Sonoma County for a community project that has been in the works for years. Officials gathered on the corner of Highway 12 and West Thomson Avenue to kick off a project that will add sidewalks to a busy stretch of road. County officials give credit to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and ABC7 Listens for getting the project moving.

A two-mile stretch of Highway 12, just north of the town of Sonoma, is in desperate need of upgrades. With no sidewalks and narrow shoulders, the busy road in The Springs neighborhood is treacherous for bicyclists and pedestrians.

County leaders cannot believe those upgrades are finally about to happen.

"Remember, this project started back in '84, believe it or not," said county engineer Tom O'Kane.

Twenty-four years later, Caltrans has signed off on plans to add sidewalks, curbs, wheelchair ramps at crosswalks, and other improvements. The county says the project took so long to get off the ground in part because though it is a state highway, all the design and engineering and financing are the county's responsibility.

However, Caltrans still gets the final OK, and that was proving hard to get until ABC7 News did a story in June of last year, and the governor saw it. Sonoma Supervisor Valerie Brown says that caused him to pick up the phone and call Caltrans.

"I have to tell you that when a governor calls a department and says, 'What are you doing and why haven't you done this,' it makes a difference, and that's exactly what happened," said Supervisor Brown.

The original price tag was estimated at about $6 million, but the delays have pushed it to $16 million. Bonds will likely cover the difference, but it is still all coming out of the local taxpayers' pockets.

Rich Lee sits on a residents' advisory committee for this project. He says he would rather not stew on the financial pain or play the blame game.

"You know, I think we'd just as soon leave that behind. It's beyond our control and we just need to look forward and anticipate all the benefits that this project is going to bring to The Springs," said Lee.

In addition to safety, it will improve the appearance of the now rather rundown area.

"There will be ornamental lights, about 55 lights in this section which I think people will really like. It'll really dress up the area," said O;Kane.

And there are hopes the improvements will attract private development dollars.

"We are very excited and we expect this to be a catalyst for the revitalization of this area," said Kathleen Kane with the Community Development Committee.

"It should be finished in the spring. It's not a monumental undertaking. It's taken a long time to get here though. The construction part's the easy part? the hard part was getting here," said O'Kane.

Target date for completion is April or May of next year.

We found out about this story at one of our ABC7 Listens meetings in Sonoma. For information about our next meeting, click here.


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