Traffic – we are all affected
Valley of the Moon Alliance (VOTMA)
It’s late spring. Tourism and commerce in the Valley have started to hit their stride. New growth on vines and traffic on Highway 12 have come to symbolize peak season in our county. When it comes to traffic, are there long-term prospects for improvement, or are things destined to get worse? At Valley of the Moon Alliance (VOTMA), this issue affects nearly every project we evaluate.
We’ve learned a bit lately about how regional traffic planning takes place; how data is collected, how each jurisdiction tailors its own plan, and how data is deployed to inform decisions. Little that we’ve gathered thus far inspires confidence that things will get better soon in the Valley; but we are making some progress.
Original plans for State Route 12 eastward from Santa Rosa, as imagined half a century ago, have been relegated to the dustbin, and for good reason. Consequently, our challenge is to seek a balance within current constraints, without sacrificing our rural character.
One source of congestion in the Valley of the Moon is the City of Santa Rosa. How does the largest city in Sonoma County plan its growth and mitigate traffic impacts? What, if any, responsibility does it have to surrounding unincorporated areas? Are Community Separators, which are supported by a large majority of voters, being honored? Is there a balance to be struck, to benefit both cities and scenic rural areas?
Fifty years ago, Santa Rosa’s population was around 50,000. By 2020, the City anticipates 180,000. This growth has had clear impacts on traffic in Sonoma Valley – from local commuters, vineyards, wineries and tourism, to commercial trucks using Route 12 to connect Highways 101, 37 and 80, to emergency vehicle access throughout the Valley.
In light of the outsized effect Santa Rosa’s growth has, how can we hope to preserve safe, serviceable roadways unless city planners acknowledge cumulative traffic impacts? If each jurisdiction’s lack of foresight continues, who wins?
From Oakmont to Carneros – vintners, retirees, families, contractors, drivers, tourists – we’re all affected by how well Highway 12 functions. Oftentimes, the answer is not very well. Given our shared reliance on this crucial roadway, we believe it’s time for affected parties, large and small, suburban and rural, to insist that traffic generated by future development be realistically anticipated and mitigated.
The next project in east Santa Rosa likely to increase traffic woes is back on the drawing board. Previous proposals for the Elnoka property (on Oakmont’s western boundary) foundered, but now a 600+ unit senior living development has been filed with the City of Santa Rosa. There will be hearings and traffic engineers and consultants who’ll insist that any resulting congestion will be remedied by yet another stop light, and that seniors don’t drive much in the first place, etc. Experience tells us otherwise.
Eastside Santa Rosa’s subdivisions – Montgomery Village, Skyhawk, Spring Lake Village, Oakmont, and Wild Oak – generally lack affordable housing. This was a choice developers made and planners sanctioned, and obviously, it has appealed to homeowners. Yet where do the gardeners, contractors, and providers required for those neighborhoods actually live? The answer is that most reside miles away and commute by car or truck.
As future developments come up for review, will the City of Santa Rosa be concerned about traffic impacts on Sonoma Valley? Or is our mission to protect rural character doomed by our proximity to Santa Rosa on one hand, and wine tourism on the other? Conserving the beauty of our area is a lofty goal. We’re already on a tightrope when it comes to traffic from north and south putting the squeeze on the Valley. If this overburdening continues unabated, it will be a crying shame.
We urge stakeholders from Oakmont to Glen Ellen to recognize common interest on this critical matter. Meanwhile, VOTMA’s quest for accurate traffic data will continue, so we will keep you posted, including via our website VOTMA.org, which provides background information and status of current projects. Please feel free to share your comments on important local issues like this one.