Here’s a timeline of the Greenley Road Extension project, a long proposed 1.2-mile bypass of downtown Sonora that would remove thousands of vehicles per day off Washington Street, based on reports and information provided by longtime City Engineer Jerry Fuccillo:

1975: The Greenley Road Extension is listed as the tentative top priority in Tuolumne County’s first Regional Transportation Plan.

1976: The county becomes eligible to receive federal funding for the project and construction is planned to begin in 1980.

1978: The project is moved down to priority No. 7 on the county’s Regional Transportation Plan due to financial constraints.

1981-82: Tuolumne County applies for Federal Aid Secondary funding for the extension project and hires a consulting firm to complete the initial environmental studies and design.

1982-85: Local property owners and a group calling itself Residents Against the Greenley Extension, or RAGE, oppose the project as studies are being conducted.

1986: A ballot measure to impose a 1-cent sales tax for road improvements, with the Greenley Road Extension listed as the top priority, is defeated by county voters.

1987: The project, estimated to cost $5.5 million at the time, is greenlit by the county Board of Supervisors to proceed with final design and property acquisition.

1989: Changes to the federal funding system requires the county to use or lose the $3.5 million earmarked for the project by September 1991.

1990: Further studies are ordered for the proposed route, and the county decides to use the $3.5 million to repave 40 miles of roads.

1991: The project is included in the Countywide Road Program that will be partially funded through traffic impact mitigation fees on developers.

1996: A countywide traffic circulation study lists the project as the No. 1 priority at an estimated cost of $7.5 million.

1997: A study produces concepts for 13 routes for a North-South Connector to bypass downtown Sonora that would include an extension of Greenley Road.

2006: A new study to determine the feasibility of the proposed North-South Connector routes is completed after three years of work and estimates the total cost at between $27 million and $38 million.

2009: The Greenley Road Extension, now estimated at more than $12 million and considered the first phase of a North-South Connector projector, is projected to start construction in 2018 or 2019.

2016: Construction on the Greenley Road Extension is pushed back to 2040 after the California Transportation Commission cuts more than $750 million in projects due to a lack of funding.

2017: Gov. Jerry Brown signs Senate Bill 1 increasing the state’s annual vehicle registration fees and gas tax by 12 cents per gallon to provide an additional $54 billion in road funding.

2018: The Sonora City Council and Tuolumne County Transportation Council provide $250,000 for a new study on the Greenley Road Extension, in hopes that construction could begin in five years with the additional funding from SB 1.



Work is set to begin over the next year on a $250,000 attempt to resuscitate the Greenley Road Extension, a 1.2-mile bypass of downtown Sonora that’s been considered one of the most needed transportation projects in Tuolumne County since the 1970s.

The Sonora City Council and Tuolumne County Transportation Council earmarked $125,000 each in their most recent budgets for a study of the project that’s lay mostly dormant since it was last seriously considered in 2006.

Just two years ago, the project that’s estimated to cost between $15 million and $20 million was pushed back to 2040 after the California Transportation Commission cut more than $750 million from its budget for future transportation projects.

Local planners say there’s a real possibility that construction could begin in five to 10 years now thanks to millions of dollars in additional funding provided by Senate Bill 1, a gas tax increase approved by California lawmakers in 2017.

“Caltrans has told us that they are looking for rural projects, and that (the Greenley Road Extension) is one that would compete well,” said Darin Grossi, executive director of the Tuolumne County Transportation Council.

An estimated 18,000 to 20,000 vehicles per day travel along Washington Street, a portion of Highway 49 that also serves as the main thoroughfare through downtown Sonora.

The Greenley Road Extension would reduce the number of vehicles on Washington Street by at least 5,000 per day, but the project has been plagued by false starts over the past four decades due to losses in funding and opposition from people who own land where the road would be built.

“This will not completely solve the traffic congestion downtown, but it’s going to make it better and keep it from getting a whole lot worse,” Grossi said.

A feasibility study was last completed in 2006 that estimated the cost at about $13 million at the time, and it was placed on list of transportation projects to be funded through traffic impact mitigation fees paid by developers.

However, most of the money from the fees has since been depleted by projects higher on the priority list like the nearly $4 million widening of Mono Way completed in 2014 and $3 million widening of the intersection at Greenley Road and Mono Way completed late last year.

The lack of foreseeable development that would replenish the fund is another reason the project was delayed before SB 1 was approved.

Grossi said the new study will consist of work such as surveying, mapping, tweaking the alignments from those proposed in the past, identifying environmentally sensitive areas, and, most importantly, meeting with the public and landowners.

As previously proposed, the project would create an eastern bypass of downtown Sonora by extending Greenley Road more than one mile to the north so that it connects with Highway 49 at Browns Flat.

People who owned land on which the proposed route would be constructed formed an opposition group in the 1980s called Residents Against the Greenley Extension, which went by the acronym RAGE.

The group urged planners to move the extension farther east because they claimed there was as much as $7.7 million in gold along the preferred route. However, the proposed alternatives were at least twice as long and would have made the project far more costly.

Grossi said working closely with the landowners on the upcoming study will be key in the latest attempt to get the project off the ground.

“The opposition group felt like their voices weren’t being heard,” he said of the past attempts.

After the study is completed in the next year or two, the next step will be to complete the environmental review that Grossi estimated could take three to five years.

The project would then be submitted to the state to compete for funding, likely through the state’s Congested Corridors Program that will receive an additional $250 million per year from SB 1.

Grossi said there’s no telling how long the project will be delayed if SB 1 is repealed by California voters through a ballot initiative in the Nov. 6 general election.

Jerry Fuccillo, who has served as the City of Sonora’s contract engineer since 1979, has long advocated for the extension because he views it as the single most important project for the city.

Fuccillo said the street now operates at a level of service F, the lowest grade possible due to the constant gridlock.

“They always predicted severe congestion on Washington Street, and it’s happening now,” he said. “You’re at capacity. You’re not going to add more cars to it.”

Fuccillo said the city’s side streets, especially Stewart Street, have become more congested over the years as a result.

Caltrans initially promised to build a bypass of downtown Sonora when it took over Washington Street in the 1930s, according to Fuccillo.

He also blamed the traffic on an increase in accidents involving pedestrians in crosswalks getting hit by vehicles that are turning off Washington Street, such as one on June 27 near the Red Church in which a man was hit by a vehicle and bumped to the ground.

“You’re going to see more safety problems on both Washington Street as well as Stewart Street,” he said. “That’s my prediction.”

Fuccillo said the stop-and-go traffic on Washington Street is also bad for the environment and drivers’ wallets, because more gas is burned than if the vehicles were moving at a steadier pace.

Although merchants and residents in downtown Sonora have decried the safety issues in recent months, some are torn as to whether a bypass that removes 5,000 vehicles from Washington Street per day would be good or bad for business.

Margie Paxton-Fromm, owner of Legends Books, Antiques and Old Fashioned Soda Fountain on South Washington Street, said she supports the idea because she believes there’s too much traffic through the downtown area.

“Being a business owner, people tell me they love downtown but there’s too much traffic,” she said.

Paxton-Fromm said alternative routes could also be helpful in case of emergency, though she believes the downtown economy would also benefit from more parking and improved sidewalks.

Nancy Moses, co-owner of the Candy Vault and Ventana Art Gallery on South Washington Street, was more skeptical because she worries it would reduce foot traffic to her businesses if people avoid going downtown.

“As a person driving, it would make sense because it’s not so congested, but there’s an advantage in having the traffic as a business owner,” she said.

Moses said she believes the congestion wouldn’t be as big an issue if there was more parking because people would be willing to deal with it if they were assured of finding an open spot.

Jaclyn Smith, of Hollister, and her father, Jim Smith, of Napa, were resting in the shade Friday afternoon outside of a business on South Washington Street while shopping in downtown Sonora.

The Smiths have owned a place in Arnold for 30 years and said they often visit downtown Sonora to shop and dine while in the area.

Jaclyn Smith said she understood the business owners’ concerns about less foot traffic, but she believes people intentionally seek out downtown Sonora as a destination and fewer vehicles could improve the visitor experience.

“I could definitely see the business view being different than the tourist view,” she said. “But then again, I think people come here because they want to be here.”

Jim Smith agreed with his daughter before wincing and holding his hands to his ears as a large logging truck blared its loud horn while driving past on South Washington Street.

Contact Alex Maclean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

20717326