By Ray Holley, Healdsburg Tribune, Managing Editor
An idea decades in the making will move forward in the next two years at Healdsburg’s most complicated intersection, with a City Council go-ahead of a roundabout design for the southern entrance to downtown.
The five-way intersection of Mill St., Vine St. and Healdsburg Ave. has been problematic since Vine St. was constructed in the 1980s. The addition of a diagonal street elongated a traditional four-way intersection into a stretched-out five-way, and motorists are easily confused by its geometry.
“What’s out there now is a lot of pavement, a lot of confusion,” said David Gates to the City Council last week. Gates is one of seven consulting firms working on traffic, landscaping, design and right-of-way issues on the project.
In addition, growth in the Russian River and Dry Creek Valleys has increased traffic.
Vehicles that want to get into and out of the Westside Rd. area have to navigate that intersection, and lengthy bottlenecks are common at red lights.
“What will happen on Friday afternoons (when traffic is heaviest)?” asked City Councilmember Eric Ziedrich at the meeting.
Gates answered with what consultants have told the city all along, that a roundabout offers greater efficiency. “It moves cars slowly but they don’t stop,” he said.
This roundabout concept came up in 2003, after Healdsburg commissioned a “Gateway Study” to recommend ways to improve access and circulation at the major entrances to the community.
At the time, then-Public Works Director George Hicks scoffed at the roundabout concept and later ate his words, telling the City Council that a thorough traffic study supported the efficiency of a roundabout.
The project almost lost its funding in 2012, when Governor Jerry Brown did away with redevelopment funds statewide.
Healdsburg had funds set aside for the roundabout in its redevelopment agency account, but was able to appeal the state take-away and recover the funds.
Last week’s action gives city staff permission to prepare the documents needed to bid the project, which includes multiple pedestrian and bicycle safety features and calls for Healdsburg Ave. To “neck down” from two lanes to one lane (with a center turn lane) south of the intersection. That section of Healdsburg Ave. will look much different, with wide sidewalks, parking on both sides and drought-tolerant landscaping.
Other parts of the project include repairing the box culvert where Foss Creek passes under the intersection and placing utilities underground.
The currently unused railroad line will pass through the roundabout and plans call for railroad arms to shut the intersection during train crossings if rail service ever returns.
The estimated cost for the project is $4 million. Construction is expected to begin in Spring of 2016 and last 18-24 months.
According to Healdsburg Public Works Director Brent Salmi, traffic impacts should be less than a current major project, which has resulted in the closure of Memorial Bridge for more than a year.
“We think we can keep the (five-way) intersection open during the entire process, but there will certainly be lane closures at times that will result in some delays and inconvenience.,” Salmi said.
More information about the project is available on the city’s website www.cityofhealdsburg.org.