Published Friday, September 29, 2006, by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat
GRIDLOCK ON 101
Nowhere to go
Crash, freeway closure reminder of SR's dependence on artery
By Jeremy Hay
The Press Democrat
It's the Big Dog, the Main Drag, the region's broad transportation
And when Highway 101 shuts down -- as happened Thursday morning
for nearly 2-1/2 hours -- it's a Big Mess, snarling traffic on the
highway and well beyond, halting commutes and delaying deliveries
and emergency responses.
Once again, as happened in March when three major accidents in six
days crippled the highway, the region's reliance on Highway 101,
and the lack of alternatives, was made plain.
"We need 101 to be working for things to work well around here,"
said Rick Moshier, Santa Rosa's director of public works.
Once again, perhaps inevitably in this election season, the mess
on the highway became a touchstone for diverging opinions about a
proposed commuter train from Cloverdale to Larkspur.
"All morning, people were calling me, saying, 'You need to use this
to tell people about SMART, so that we have another alternative when
this happens,'" said Bob Jehn, Cloverdale's mayor and past chairman
of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board of directors.
To which, Jack Atkin, president of the Sonoma County Taxpayers
Association, which opposes Measure R, asked: "Would all the people
in their cars this morning have gotten out and walked to the train?"
An average of 94,000 vehicles a day (7,400 at peak hours) passes the
point on Highway 101, south of River Road, where Thursday's accident
froze the traffic beneath a gray sky.
To the naked eye, it seemed that for hours after the 6:50 a.m.
crash, they all were parked on the freeway, on nearby Old Redwood
Highway and on the smaller surface streets.
"It just drives home that 101 is the transportation lifeline for
this area and the only way people can really get around," said Jehn,
who also is chairman of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.
That's a function first of location, Atkin said.
A Kenwood resident, he faces a similar lack of alternatives when
crashes or fallen trees block Highway 12 in the Sonoma Valley.
"Those circumstances are reflective of the topography of
California," Atkin said. "If this were a flat desert environment,
or any flat landscape, you'd probably have a lot more roadways."
Discussions about widening Fulton Road, particularly through Santa
Rosa, were last held in the 1990s, Jehn said, but they went nowhere.
"It's off the table pretty much as far as regional planning is
concerned, unless Santa Rosa wants to spend some of their allocated
resources to do something there," he said.
Santa Rosa doesn't, said Wayne Goldberg, the city's director of
advance planning and public policy.
Stony Point Road from Highway 12 to Sebastopol Road is to be widened
in a long-planned project that city officials say should start in
2007. But Goldberg said, "I think it's safe to say that neither
(Fulton or Stony Point) are being developed as bypasses to 101."
But perhaps, Atkin suggested, "it's time for policymakers to think
more seriously about alternative roadways."
In this season of SMART -- a Nov. 7 ballot measure will ask Sonoma
and Marin county voters for a quarter-cent sales tax over 20 years
-- appending "roadways" to "alternative" is a clearly signaled
"The railroad right-of-way is an asset" that could be used to reduce
reliance on Highway 101, Atkin said. But to do that properly, he
said, it should be paved in such a way that buses as well as trains
could use it.
"If you had something like that, it could serve as an alternative
and an emergency route in the event of something like what happened
this morning," he said.
The train, said Jehn, is the alternative.
"The reality is, there aren't any other alternatives," he said. "We
have fought literally for 30-plus years for funding to widen Highway
101 to ease some of the congestion on that corridor, and there's no
way that we are going to get a real alternative route to 101 that
provides the same accessibility."