Caltrans begins last phase of 20-year Highway 101 project in Petaluma

Wednesday, October 2, 2019
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The last stage of a billion-dollar-plus project, expanding the "Novato Narrows" to three lanes, is underway after 18 years of construction delay frustration.

PETALUMA, Calif. (KGO) -- It's notable when Caltrans and regional officials kick off the ceremonial start to a highway project in, of all places, a cul-de-sac. That happened in Petaluma, today.

"I think it's very fitting," said Caltrans Senior Engineer Jeffrey Kress. He's the local kid, Novato High School Class of 1980, making a permanent difference one mile from his home.

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"Not sure about the long hair," he said of his graduation picture. Back then, and now, he knew delays the 101 Narrows (as people around here call them), well. Now, he'll supervise the last stage of a billion-dollar-plus project expanding 16 miles to three lanes, and completing a modern highway in the place of one built to 1950's standards.

For locals, the work has generated 18 years of construction delay frustration.

"Horrible," said one.

"Nightmare," added a second.

"Like going to the DMV without an appointment," described a third.

Caltrans told us today that it could have finished all of this project in five years if the money had come in at once.

"We are working on a highway system with traffic. It's not like one without traffic where we can build the lanes and go," said Cal Trans Bay Area Director Tony Tavares.

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This last section will install sound walls between the highway and neighborhoods, elevate the freeway, and add four bridges, including one above an extended Ranier Avenue, allowing traffic to pass from east to west.

While environmentalists have fought it, regulars in the Deer Creek Dog Park see progress, even though the new section of the road will pass close. "We really need it. There are only two roads to the other side of town," said Ed Herro.

Kress estimates the project will be completed by the end of 2022, barring any delays due to weather. After that, "When this project is complete I will retire with 34 years in the state of California," said Kress.

And the 1980 grad will have left a permanent mark in his hometown.

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