Work started last night on the new interchange at Airport Blvd. and Highway 101, and readers have sent a lot of questions. Answers are coming in a few at a time.

Here’s what we learned today from Rob Sprinkle, Santa Rosa traffic engineer, and  Tom O’Kane, deputy director of Sonoma County’s Department of Transportation and Public Works.

As of noon Tuesday, O’Kane said his office hadn’t received a single complaint. Treat that as a sign that the launch of night closures and detours went as smoothly as possible.

Adjusting traffic signals

Question: Will the County have its traffic team out there Monday morning to adjust the signal lights? The intersection of Fulton and Airport will probably have three times the number of northbound Fulton to westbound Airport vehicles starting Monday. That element of the signal cycle will need to be lengthened considerably!

Answer: If adjustments are needed to accommodate changes in traffic patterns during the construction, staff will attempt to provide the smoothest operation possible. But remember there will be significant delays for traffic no matter what is done to this intersection while this major project is underway.

Airport Blvd. traffic jams, solutions

Question: Are they planning to widen Airport Blvd. to four lanes from Highway 101 to the airport? I begin work at 5 p.m. just off Airport Blvd. and see the traffic heading towards the freeway backed up solid as far back as Brickway.

Answer: Eventually, but not right now. That project would be paid for with county Measure M money (from the quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2004), which is currently funding other projects. Design and permitting won’t begin until money is available, although there is a plan for the overall transportation network for the Airport Blvd. corridor.

The county has already started on one phase of the plan that should relieve some of the traffic. O’Kane’s office is working to extend Brickway Blvd. so that it connects directly to River Road, avoiding the Airport Blvd./Highway 101 intersection altogether.

Brickway will continue south to join Laughlin Road, a project that will involve building a new bridge across Mark West Creek, bypassing the current one-way bridge. O’Kane says the design and permitting process is about 30% of the way complete, and construction could begin as early as 2015. Measure M money has been set aside for this project, but because it passes through an environmentally sensitive area, the permitting process may cause delays.

Question: This still doesn’t fix the bottleneck at the RR tracks. It can sometimes take up to 20 minutes coming from the airport to get onto southbound 101.  Is that part of the project, or was it considered when designing the project?

Answer: That bottleneck starts at the intersection at Aviation and Airport boulevards, which narrows from five lanes (two lanes each direction plus a turn lane) on the east side of the intersection to three lanes on the west side, and gets worse as the road narrows at the railroad tracks, where the turn lane disappears.

Measure M money helped ease the pain by adding another turn lane at the Aviation and Airport intersection, but O’Kane says nothing more will be done until SMART begins rebuilding the railroad crossing to prepare for commuter rail service. Another portion of the Airport Blvd. widening could be scheduled to coincide with that work, with design beginning as soon as engineering and permitting money is available.

SMART hasn’t set a date for that work. Money has been allocated to rebuild the railroad to Airport Blvd., and SMART is doing cost estimates, said spokesman Matt Stevens. “The board of directors will take up the decision to extend the Phase 1 railroad at a future meeting.”

Spillover onto Fulton/Piner Road intersection

Question: What about the light at the intersection of Fulton Road and Piner Road (south of Airport Blvd.? I have wasted many, many minutes of my life that I will never get back waiting for that light to change (especially turning left onto Piner from Fulton). The longest I waited was 8 minutes. Will that be impacted by the new changes?

Answer: The intersection of Fulton and Piner roads is coordinated with other signals on Fulton Road, with different cycles throughout the day. During peak traffic hours it is timed to move traffic on Fulton Road.  The left turns have less traffic and get less time accordingly.

Even so, an 8-minute wait is way too long. The longest wait should be no more than 2 minutes. It sounds like the detection device in that turn lane missed your vehicle, Sprinkle said, adding that city crews will take a look and make sure the detection is working appropriately.

“We also will evaluate the traffic volumes and any new circulation patterns on Fulton relating to the changes at the Airport Interchange modifications,” he said.

Stayed tuned for  more updates as we receive them.

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