Demolition of abandoned Healdsburg gas station marks start of roundabout project

By Clark Mason

Crews demolish an old service station at the five-way intersection on Healdsburg Ave. in Healdsburg on Wednesday. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

With a giant excavator clawing at the wooden, chipped-paint face of the building, it took work crews about two hours Wednesday to make an old gas station in Healdsburg little more than a memory, leaving only an empty slab and rebar in its place.

The eyesore near the entrance to downtown, abandoned for more than 15 years, was demolished Wednesday, signaling the start of a major long-awaited project that includes a new traffic roundabout and infrastructure improvements.

“This is the first really tangible and physical component of the construction,” Healdsburg consultant Jim Heid said of the $10.3 million project that will take more than a year, tear up some streets, and slow down traffic during the time it’s being built.

The gas station razing will facilitate major excavation to replace aging sewer lines and a near century-old box culvert that channels Foss Creek under the property.

It’s part of the city’s plan to “daylight” more of Foss Creek while also remaking the tricky five-way intersection.

The roundabout a block south of the Healdsburg Plaza is being built where Healdsburg Avenue, Mill and Vine streets converge with the railroad tracks. It’s considered by traffic engineers to be a more efficient and safer way to handle vehicles and pedestrians.

In addition to sewer and pipeline replacements, electrical and other utility lines will be buried and the railroad track and safety gates upgraded for eventual commuter passenger train service.

Traffic will still be able to move through the intersection while construction proceeds, although there could be some controls that involve rotating stops.

Contractors are “figuring out how to minimize traffic disruption,” Heid said.

The City Council earlier this year decided to allow traffic to continue to flow rather than shut down the intersection, which would have allowed some construction to be completed faster and saved more than $400,000.

Council members were sensitive to business owners who overwhelmingly wanted to keep traffic flowing and not cut customers off with a blocked street.

Heid said the project is expected to be completed by Aug. 30, 2017.

The city has set up a website, healdsburgaveimprovements.com, that provides updates on construction progress. It features a webcam overlooking the intersection that enables viewers to monitor the work.

A telephone hotline has also been set up — 540-9964 — for questions or comments.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@clarkmas