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$40 million grant to cover final segment in Hwy 101 widening project in Sonoma, Marin counties

A state grant that represents the final piece of funding for the North Bay’s Highway 101 widening project is expected to fall into place this week.

California transportation officials are scheduled to meet Wednesday to review a staff recommendation granting more than $40 million in gas tax revenues to Marin County to widen its final stretch of highway in the Sonoma-Marin Narrows north of Novato. If approved, it would mark the beginning of the end for the largest road project in the North Bay in a generation — the addition of a third lane in each direction from Windsor to Sausalito — at an estimated cost of more than $1.2 billion.

In the Narrows alone, the roadwork is set to cost up to $754 million. With the new state grant, construction north of Novato is expected to begin next spring and wrap up in late 2023 or early 2024.

“It feels pretty amazing to finally to get to a point where we can say we only have one more phase of work to complete before this corridor is widened and we have a carpool lane in both directions. It’s just taken a minute,” said Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. “For us to be able to put all those pieces together over the years and work with all of our contractors to do it, it feels pretty good.”

Work continues on a more than 3-mile segment on the Sonoma side of the Narrows, from Corona Road to the Petaluma River. That section is fully funded at $121 million and broke ground in October 2019. It is scheduled to be finished by the end of 2022.

The unfinished section of the Narrows in Marin County includes a 6-mile segment along southbound Highway 101 and a 3½-mile northbound segment south of the county line. The total cost is nearly $136 million.

“We’ve been working on this ever since I was elected and even before … trying to get the Narrows into a normal highway instead of a country road,” said four-term Marin County Supervisor Judy Arnold, who serves as board chair of the county’s transportation authority. “I think everybody realized now we’ve whittled down this project so we can really make it happen and have a three-lane road go from Novato to Petaluma and beyond. It’s wonderful and I can’t wait to see it start.”

From Windsor to Cloverdale, a separate $164 million resurfacing project dubbed the “Big Pave” has retopped the two-lane highway with a smooth layer of asphalt in both directions. It got underway in spring 2017, and final drainage work is set to be finished by next fall, according to Caltrans.

An ongoing legal battle has thrown a wrench in the award of money for Bay Area road projects, including the Narrows. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association continues to contest the legality of a 2018 voter-approved toll increase on bridges to fund $4.5 billion in road and transit upgrades throughout the region.

After a pair of lower court losses, the Howard Jarvis group appealed to the California Supreme Court, which agreed in October to hear the case over Regional Measure 3. The measure includes $120 million toward completing the Narrows project, with $90 million of that set to go to Marin County for the Novato segment and $30 million to Sonoma County for any unanticipated needs, Smith said.

The ballot measure approved $1 toll hikes between 2019 and 2025 on the seven state-owned bridges in the Bay Area (the Golden Gate Bridge is not among them). Also tied up in the lawsuit is $100 million for improvements on Highway 37 and $40 million toward SMART’s 3-mile extension to Windsor.

No resolution is expected from the state’s high court for at least several months, according to a spokesman for the Bay Area Toll Authority, the named defendant in the case.

“The RM3 piece has been frustrating, having to deal with that kind of legal limbo. But ultimately that money will flow and we’ve had success along the way, knock on wood, with the cases,” said Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, a board member for the county’s transportation authority. “Yeah, it has taken far longer than any of us would have liked. Some of that is of our own making. But we’re really moving in a good direction, albeit slowly, and have been persistent to get the infrastructure in place.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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