Roundabout coming to State Route 121 and Eighth Street East intersection in Sonoma

Rep. Mike Thompson came to Schellville on Aug. 31 to present a $1.5 million check to help fund the infrastructure project at State Route 121 and Eighth Street East.|

Elected officials met at the intersection of State Route 121 and Eighth Street East on Thursday to celebrate $1.5 million in new federal funding for a roundabout to replace the current T-intersection.

Leaders of the proposed roundabout project — and an accompanying bike lane — say its introduction will help increase vehicle safety, but it will require drivers to operate outside of the box — and into a circle.

“During the recession years ago, (the roundabout) fell off in the shop plan,” First District Supervisor Susan Gorin said. “Sonoma County Transportation Authority) were working on the roundabout at the four corners down there. And so it just made sense for them to continue their work with Caltrans on the design.”

The $1.5 million in federal appropriation funds for Caltrans will go toward acquiring environmental clearance and project design, which will be matched by $375,000 in local funds, according to Jack Stelzner, the communications director for Rep. Mike Thompson (D- St. Helena).

The intersection is an integral transportation corridor in the Carneros wine region connecting Sonoma Valley to downtown Napa in the east and toward Marin and San Francisco in the west. The project is scheduled for completion by spring 2026, according to Caltrans.

The $1.5 million in funding stems from the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, which passed last year. That’s why President Joe Biden’s name was on the novelty check presented on Thursday.

Elected leaders tout the project as an important piece of the Vision Zero Initiative, which aims to “to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries” that was pioneered in Sweden in the 1990s.

Roundabouts initially faced pushed back in the North Bay in Napa County, Thompson said.

“I can remember trying to get one in Napa County years ago, and it was met with tremendous opposition from Caltrans,” Thompson said. “Then shortly thereafter, when the north coast was in my district, they went in Fort Bragg, they put a couple in. And now there's two more in Napa. And that's it, I think it's catching on.”

The roundabout will force drivers to reduce their speeds as they approach the intersection and contribute to Sonoma County’s climate goals to reduce carbon emissions, according to the project description.

“This project is an important strategy to reduce congestion, improve quality of life, improve access to equity priority communities, and pursue a comprehensive and more sustainable transportation network for our future,” Stelzner said.

He added, “The project will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by minimizing vehicle idle times and encouraging multimodal users by incorporating safety features for bicycles and pedestrians to cross State Route 121/12 to connect the proposed Sonoma Schellvile Trail with the planned San Francisco Bay Trail to the south.”

The project has a basic design, but it will require further land acquisition, an environmental study “and then, oh yeah, maybe find 15 more million dollars,” Gorin said.

“We'll connect with state and federal and the infrastructure act looking for any opportunities to fund this project,” Gorin said. “It's easier to receive a grant when you have the original work already started.”

Thompson said he is especially glad to see more acceptance of roundabouts locally, which while popular in Europe, were slower to be adopted in America.

“Before... it took months for me to get Caltrans to talk to me about this,” Thompson said. “But this was a priority for Sonoma County, and they came to me and they wanted to do one of these. And I put in a request. And we got the transportation appropriations that was able to get the $1.5 million.”

Contact Chase Hunter at chase.hunter@sonomanews.com and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

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