Sean Scully documented the frustration over tie-ups on Calistoga and Porter Creek roads on Wednesday in THIS Press Democrat story, writing that “the normally bucolic drive between Santa Rosa and northern Napa Valley has turned into a tangled nightmare  as construction crews conduct simultaneous projects on the only major roads through the mountains.”

Scully should know. His daily commute takes him over the Mayacamas, and on Monday he chose the lesser of two evils, a 15-minute delay at the long-standing bridge reconstruction project on Porter Creek Road. He wasn’t able to get an official comment in time for his story, but got these frank comments the next day from Tom O’Kane, deputy director of the Sonoma County Department of Transportation and Public Works.

O’Kane’s department is in charge of both construction projects and is taking the heat for scheduling them simultaneously.

He says the fault lies with the state, which has been slow to release money for the $7 million Porter Creek Bridge project. Although the county was ready to put the project out for bids in 2012, the state wouldn’t release the money until November, delaying the project for up to a year.

O’Kane said he was worried about delaying the project any further because the bridge is barely capable of handling its current load, rating just 4 on the 100 point scale engineers use to assess bridges. The state could have imposed a weight limit or closed the bridge completely as an imminent hazard to public safety.

The new bridge will be wider and will include a turn lane to allow vehicles to get to Safari West,  a frequent spot for accidents. The new bridge will also be rated for the heavy gravel and delivery trucks that now use the road, but which have damaged the less robust old bridge.

Meanwhile, Calistoga Road is in terrible condition and is the target of frequent complaints from motorists. When more than $700,000 became available from Caltrans to repair the subsurface and repave, O’Kane said he couldn’t turn it down despite the simultaneous Porter Creek Bridge work.

He expressed intense frustration with the state bureaucracy, dealing on one hand with engineers eager to condemn the bridge as a hazard and finance officials on the other who were slow to give him the money he needed to fix the problem.

“This state is broken,” O’Kane said. “It makes the feds look wonderful by comparison.”

On a side note, Safari West owners say they are being blamed for the delays by some upset motorists who think the wildlife preserve owns the Porter Creek Bridge and is responsible for the construction. Not true, they say. It’s a county project, and Safari West is suffering the consequences along with every other business and commuter on the road.


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