101 widening in Petaluma busts budget again
- Published Tuesday, August 23, 2005, in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Rising costs threaten Petaluma road project
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
By Tobias Young
An $8.9 million Highway 101 entrance ramp and bridge project in
Petaluma could be imperiled by cost overruns.
Work already is under way but part of the project -- replacing a
bridge over Lakeville Street and the railroad tracks -- could be
postponed because of escalating costs.
In a letter to Caltrans, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority
said delaying the bridge replacement would drive up the cost. There
would be a lower level of safety until then, the Aug. 4 letter said.
The existing bridge has only two lanes and narrow one-foot-wide
The new bridge would add an acceleration lane and 10-foot shoulders,
enhancing safety on the short, uphill ramp that brings traffic from
Lakeville Street on to Highway 101.
Work on the project started in October and is scheduled to be finished
The work already has been more expensive than anticipated. To start
with, the low bid came in $2.4 million higher than the state's $6.5
million estimate, said Gidget Navarro, a Caltrans spokeswoman.
Now it is expected to cost another $1.3 million to finish the work,
The Caltrans team working on the project has asked for the money to
complete it. But Caltrans hasn't decided if it will seek
authorization for the cost overruns, district Director Doanh Nguyen
Sonoma County transportation officials called their letter a proactive
effort to deal with a problem that may yet be averted and said it
wasn't intended to become public.
"We just wanted to make sure Caltrans headquarters knows we support
their efforts to keep the project on track," said Suzanne Wilford, the
executive director of the transportation authority.
Wilford said the California Transportation Commission, which controls
the purse strings on highway projects, isn't fond of making up such
Petaluma City Councilman Mike Healy, who is on the board of the
transportation authority, said if the bridge isn't replaced now, it
would need to be when the highway is widened to three lanes in each
direction from Petaluma to Novato.
"It would be penny-wise and pound-foolish for Caltrans to reduce the
scope of the existing project," Healy said. "If they do reduce the
scope it would be a step backward on completing the widening project."
A federal highway bill passed earlier this month set aside $28 million
toward the $400 million cost of widening the 18-mile stretch of
Highway 101 called the Novato Narrows.
The price tag means the project won't be finished soon, but the
Lakeville Street bridge was supposed to be finished sooner because it
was a high priority for safety reasons, Healy said.
Motorists entering Highway 101 at Lakeville have 590 feet to merge
with southbound traffic without any acceleration lane. The ongoing
project would add a 1,200-foot acceleration lane plus a 590-foot
Whether the bridge is replaced or not, the treacherously short, uphill
entrance ramp would be extended over Lakeville Street and the railroad
tracks, Nguyen said Monday. But motorists couldn't start merging
until after the bridge because the new acceleration lane and the old
bridge are at different heights.
The heights would be matched when the new bridge is built, he said.
The span is part of what's commonly called the Petaluma River Bridge.
There actually are four spans that make up the bridge -- one in each
direction over Lakeville Street and the railroad tracks and one in
each direction over the river and Petaluma Boulevard South.
The new bridge is expected to cost more because the price of materials
has been increasing rapidly due to a global building boom. Costs also
increased when crews found fiber-optic cables and had to modify the
foundation and because of environmental permitting issues and other
unexpected construction expenses.
If it's not built now, the cost of the span could double from its
current $2.4 million price tag, Wilford's letter said.
There also is an estimated $1 million of potential costs associated
with canceling the bridge portion of the contract, the letter said.