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101 widening in Petaluma busts budget again

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  • 8/23 Santa Rosa Press
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 23, 2005
      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
      shoulders.

      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
      next summer.

      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,
      Navarro said.

      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
      said Monday.

      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
      shortfalls.

      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
      merging lane.

      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.
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