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Of all the criticisms of Santa Rosa’s plan to reunify Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square — the outrage over the removal of mature redwood trees, the debate over park space versus parking spaces and the angst over the $10 million price tag — none has...

Downtown Santa Rosa bracing for Mendocino Avenue closure

Of all the criticisms of Santa Rosa’s plan to reunify Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square — the outrage over the removal of mature redwood trees, the debate over park space versus parking spaces and the angst over the $10 million price tag — none has...

Downtown Santa Rosa bracing for Mendocino Avenue closure

Of all the criticisms of Santa Rosa’s plan to reunify Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square — the outrage over the removal of mature redwood trees, the debate over park space versus parking spaces and the angst over the $10 million price tag — none has dogged the project more persistently than the concerns over traffic.

How, many ask, can the North Coast’s largest city expect to sever a main traffic artery through the heart of an already congested downtown without triggering gridlock?

Well, we’re about to find out.

On Friday, workers will permanently block off all four lanes of traffic running through the square, rerouting cars, buses and bicyclists around the site so workers can begin rejoining the two halves of the square split nearly 50 years ago by Mendocino Avenue.

It will be the most consequential and visible milestone in the controversial project to date, one that will directly affect thousands of drivers daily along one of the city’s heaviest traveled corridors.

City officials say they’ve done everything they can to prepare downtown streets to handle the additional traffic loads, educate the public about alternate routes and remind people that all downtown businesses remain open during construction.

“I think the city is ready for this change,” said Julia Gonzalez, outreach coordinator for the city’s Transportation and Public Works Department.

Originally, the city had wanted the contractor, Thompson Builders Corp., to finish reinstalling the two historic side streets, Hinton on the east and Exchange on the west, before blocking off traffic through the center.

Challenges dealing with underground utilities set the project back several weeks, forcing the city and contractor to move up the closure of Mendocino Avenue before the side streets were ready, said Jason Nutt, director of the Transportation and Public Works Department.

That shouldn’t be a problem because those streets were never designed to handle through traffic, but rather were intended for business patrons and future park visitors, Nutt said. They will be slow-speed, one-way streets with diagonal parking on each side, allowing cars to go north on Exchange and south on Hinton.

This clockwise pattern is counter-intuitive to some, who have criticized the design for “getting it backward,” Nutt said. They argue the traffic pattern should be counter-clockwise to let northbound traffic go up the east side of the square and southbound traffic travel down the west side.

But one of the goals of the project is to create a slower-paced, more welcoming space for those looking to spend time in the city’s downtown “living room.” Moving the four lanes of traffic — which regularly exceeds 40 mph — from the heart of the city is seen as a key to create that more attractive downtown dynamic.

“Right now, it’s a downtown that you drive through. We’re building a space for people to drive to,” Gonzalez said.

New routes through downtown

Large signs have for weeks warned drivers of the changes, and additional detour signs will be added throughout the downtown in preparation for the Friday switch.

Lots of work has gone into making the changes go as smoothly as possible, but city officials expect challenges.

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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