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$19M for Schellville roundabout

A long-awaited solution to traffic snarls in the Sonoma Valley is slowly coming closer to repair in the form of a roundabout where Arnold Drive and Highway 121 meet in Schellville.

A $19 million grant to help see the project through was announced this week by state transportation officials.

That the often-stalled intersection should be targeted for a roundabout is no surprise to local traffic watchdogs: It's part three of a five-part Sonoma County Transportation Authority 'local streets' project to improve traffic conditions along Arnold Drive, funded by Measure M, the quarter-cent sales tax for transportation improvements passed by county voters in 2004.

The first part of the Arnold Drive project was widening the two-lane road's shoulders just south of Glen Ellen, which was completed in 2012. The second part was the Hap Arnold Roundabout at the intersection of Agua Caliente, completed in 2014. But a full decade could elapse before this third phase is completed.

The 121/116 intersection is currently designed as a four-way stop at Bonneau Road, and has been a traffic pinch point for a generation — a source of frustration for local drivers, visitors to the City of Sonoma, and especially commute traffic between Napa and Petaluma or Santa Rosa.

In more normal times, backups could stretch for miles on popular summer weekends, such as when travelers from the greater Bay Area head to area wineries, Napa's BottleRock music festival or a NASCAR event at Sonoma Raceway.

When music concerts, weekend tourism events, or motorsports return – whether later this summer or in 2021 – they will bring with them the same dead-end gridlock, but at least drivers can take comfort in knowing the end is coming into view.

On May 13, the California Transportation Commission approved the State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP) for 2020, which includes $19 million in funding to advance the improvements at the intersection of Highways 116 and 121.

The grant of $19 million should be enough to kick-start the $24 million project through the environmental review and design work stages, plus make right-of-way acquisitions ahead of construction.

'The desire to have improvements at that intersection probably goes back two decades, if not more,' said Suzanne Smith, executive director of the county Transportation Authority. 'It really is the gateway to Sonoma Valley for people coming in off Highway 37 or off of (Highway) 101, and … it's just not a sufficient interchange by a lot.'

Sonoma Mayor Logan Harvey, a member of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority (SCTA), said, 'I grew up in this community and that intersection has always been extremely difficult and traffic-inducing. And it really doesn't have to be.'

The Sonoma County Transportation Authority partnered with Caltrans in chipping in another $5 million in sales tax revenue toward the estimated $24 million project to complete environmental review and design work, right-of-way acquisitions and construction.

'This project has been desperately needed for years and we were just waiting on funding coming forward,' said 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin, who chairs the Transportation Authority board of directors and represents the Sonoma Valley. 'The neighbors are excited about moving this forward and I am as well. We will get there, but we have to have patience a little while longer.'

Indeed, it won't happen overnight. The SHOPP grant won't become available until 2022, when Sonoma County Transportation Authority supplies the additional $5 million in sales tax revenues to reach the $24 million mark.

The project approval and environmental review were finished in spring 2018, setting up design of the roundabout and negotiating for adjacent property by 2022, when the state funding will be available. Construction is expected to begin in early 2023 and completed by the end of 2024.

Christian Kallen contributed to this report.

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