Widening Highway 101 is stupid and shortsighted

Lee Sandwina, Staff Writer

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How does Sonoma County feel about the extra lane added to Highway 101? If you feel good about it, you might pat yourself on the shoulder now, but in 15 years when you are sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic again, you’ll want to punch yourself in the face. The project is shortsighted.

The planning committee failed abysmally with the Highway 101 widening project. The added lane only feels faster now because of the project’s length of time. Construction began in 2006, and about 17 miles have been completed. The transcontinental railroad took the same amount of time and spans 1,777 miles. A lot has changed since 1869.

During rush hour the extra lane caters to carpool vehicles, as it should, but only alleviates a small amount of the usual blockage. Had I planned the Highway 101 widening, I would have added two lanes rather than one. One lane shows a lack of foresight and the predisposition to save money rather than do the job correctly. Sure, we have reached our lowest birth rate in a century, but that does not mean there will be fewer drivers in the future.

People continue to find housing at lower costs the further they get from San Francisco and Marin, so they end up living here and commuting to jobs in San Francisco or the East Bay. The number of Sonoma County residents commuting to Marin and San Francisco counties increased by 10,697 from 1990 to 2010. That represents a 45 percent increase in 20 years, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s statistics.

The current economic downturn put unemployment at the highest it’s been since the Great Depression, and gas prices have soared to above $4 per gallon. Both of these factors have led to increased use of public transportation and carpooling, which has eased road congestion. Once the economy turns around, the trickle of people interested in driving themselves will become a flood, leading to the jam-packed 101 we have come to know and hate.

The Highway 101 third lane extension from Rohnert Park to Novato will likely take another five years. To make things worse, the Novato narrows bottleneck that serves as a funnel for northbound Sonoma County traffic will expand to three lanes, enabling a higher flow of cars and possibly an increase in the number of people who move to Sonoma County. This will increase rush hour traffic throughout Sonoma County and slow the progress of freeway commuting once again.

Will the amount of people driving increase over time? I predict it will because the human species over-reproduces to over-population. I estimate the Highway 101 bumper-to-bumper rush hour will return in no more than 15 years, with obvious signs of congestion much earlier.

This project has taken longer than the transcontinental railroad and will pose an even bigger problem: re-widening Highway 101 in 15 years. Although 25 years sounds more accurate if the slow habits exhibited over the course of this widening endeavor are any indication.


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