By Clark Mason, The Press Democrat
Construction of a traffic roundabout and replacement of aging water and sewer lines at the gateway to downtown Healdsburg promise to cause disruption for both motorists and businesses just as the busy summer tourist season gets going.
In a little more than four weeks, crews are expected to start digging up the prominent five-way intersection for a job estimated to take as long as seven months, or as many as 16 months, depending on whether the busy crossroads is shut down completely or vehicles are allowed through on a limited basis as work progresses.
“Admittedly, it doesn’t matter which way we do it. Someone is going to be inconvenienced, I guarantee,” Public Works Director Brent Salmi said.
Several community meetings to explain the project are set for next week before the City Council holds a public hearing on April 18, awards the approximate $10 million construction contract and decides which timetable to pursue.
The long-anticipated roundabout that will be built where Healdsburg Avenue, Mill Street and Vine Street converge with the railroad tracks is seen as a more efficient way to handle motor vehicles and pedestrian traffic at the sometimes befuddling intersection. But the work also includes major infrastructure improvements, like rebuilding a badly-deteriorated, near century-old culvert that funnels Foss Creek under the road; clearing a decrepit, abandoned gas station; installing new water and sewer pipes; and under-grounding electrical and other utility lines. The railroad tracks and ties will also be upgraded, along with installing signals and safety gates for eventual SMART train service.
Shutting down the intersection entirely so the work starting May 9 can be completed faster — by Nov. 24 — will save more than $400,000, according to Salmi. But it also will create highly circuitous traffic detours and make it harder to reach some downtown businesses.
The other option would allow vehicles to continue through the five-way intersection during much of the construction by using rotating stop controls, but it adds to the cost. It’s estimated to extend the completion date until Sept. 1, 2017, but the longer time frame would maintain drive-by access to all businesses.
City Council members as well as business owners are split over which option to pursue.
Janet Browning, who owns Shoffeitt’s antiques collective on Healdsburg Avenue, just north of the five-way intersection, said closing it entirely “will hurt us and everybody.”
“We’ve really been concerned about it,” she said, adding that some of her 40 vendors in the building will have trouble paying rent if the intersection is closed down and customers fall off.
“We will lose a lot of meanderers — people who come up and down (Healdsburg Avenue),” Browning said of impulse shoppers attracted to the eclectic mix of art, antiques, clothing, jewelery and furniture.
But Gino Bellagio, owner of an auto body paint and glass shop right next to the intersection, was of the opposite mind. “Do it. Get it done. I don’t want two years to do it. If you have to close it down, close it down.”
Next door at the Valdez wine tasting room, Vice President Adelina Valdez agreed.
“I prefer to have it done in seven months, than 16 months,” she said, adding that people will still find their way to her tasting room.