Category Archives: In the News

Temporary pinch next week at roundabout: motorists will be unable to go full circle

By The City of Healdsburg

Partial closure necessary during installation of sewer pipe

The replacement of a 36-inch diameter sewer pipe in Healdsburg Avenue is underway. Beginning Wednesday, April 5, there will be a temporary reconfiguration and closure on the south side of the interim roundabout to accommodate underground work.

This reconfiguration may be delayed due to recent rains, but once reconfiguration is in place it will last approximately one week.

The impact on vehicle traffic will be that it will not be possible to cross Healdsburg Avenue south of the interim roundabout. In order to access Mill Street east of the Avenue, vehicles will not be able to make a full circle and will have to detour.

With the exception of the temporary south side closure and reconfiguration, the interim roundabout will allow for traffic to access all businesses south of The Parish Café located on the west side of Healdsburg Avenue. The city has placed additional signage to make sure routes to businesses remain open and that entrances are clear to drivers.

For more information on the project, and to stay current with traffic closures and rerouting, visit www.healdsburgaveimprovements.com.

5-way project a year behind schedule

By Ray Holley, Managing Editor

South entry to downtown will not be ready by the end of 2017 as city hoped

The $10 million-plus project to remake the south entry to downtown Healdsburg is far behind schedule, city officials confirmed this week.

“When all is said and done, the job is going to be a year behind,” said Healdsburg Public Works Director Brent Salmi.

While the project is referred to locally as “the roundabout project” for the traffc circle that will be the most visible result, the work is far more ambitious.

In addition to multiple streets converging in one place, the confluence of Healdsburg Avenue, Mill Street and Vine Street is also an intersection for public utilities, including water, wastewater, stormwater, electricity, gas, cable and a railroad.

It is the massive underground work that has fallen behind schedule, even while traffic rolls by around an ever-changing informal roundabout.

According to Salmi, the wet winter played a major role in the project getting behind schedule. “It’s very difficult to do underground work in the rain,” he said.

Salmi said the contractor, Bay Cities Paving & Grading, “is a bit challenging; they have their own way of doing things and run at their own pace.”

Salmi also said the city may have contributed to the slowdown by being too strict with Bay Cities on job specifications. “We were enforcing the specs more than focusing on getting the job done,” he said.

Salmi said if the weather cooperates for the rest of the construction season, a lot can be accomplished this year and the project may end up looking mostly finished by winter, while final touches like landscaping and sidewalks may be delayed until 2018.

The city’s contract with Bay Cities allows for fines for being behind schedule, but Salmi said the rainy winter will offset some of that and that the contractor can always try to catch up. “We’ll have to wait until the end of the job,” Salmi said.

The project, bid at $10 million, has a $1 million contingency fee and Salmi said it will likely be used.

A call to Bay Cities for comment was not returned.

Traffic flowing in temporary roundabout

By Ray Holley, Managing Editor
Photo by Ray Holley

City hopes to keep traffic flowing as construction intensifies on 5-way intersection project Aug 24, 2016

On Tuesday morning, trucks, cars and bicycles were going in circles at the southern entrance to downtown Healdsburg.

A temporary traffic roundabout has been added to the five-way intersection of Mill Street, Vine Street and Healdsburg Avenue.

“It’s working pretty good,” said Brent Salmi, the city’s Public Works Director. “Once in a while we have to close it for a few minutes to move construction equipment and it backs up, but then it starts moving again.”

Salmi said the temporary roundabout, a circle of orange barrels and flagging, should allow traffic to flow throughout the construction project, a complex, $10 million-plus effort that is scheduled to be complete late in 2017.

Salmi said the circle dimensions may change during the project to accommodate underground construction. “We know it’s a bit of a learning curve for people, but this will allow us to keep everything open.”

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

Work begins next week on 5-way intersection

Demolishing old gas station first visible step

An ambitious project that includes rebuilding a creek culvert, placing utilities underground and creating a traffic roundabout begins next week.

The “Healdsburg Avenue Improvements” project is expected to last until the fall of 2017.

A “Notice to Proceed” was issued Monday by the city of Healdsburg to GHD, the contractor building the project. GHD has 451 days to complete the $11 million project, which will involve completely redoing the five-way intersection of Mill Street, Vine Street and Healdsburg Avenue.

The first work residents are likely to see is the demolition of the dilapidated gas station at Mill and Vine. Foss Creek runs underneath the building and a century-old wooden culvert has to be removed and replaced before the next rainy season.

In addition, all nearby utility poles will be removed and the utilities placed underground.

Drainage through the area will also be redone, as well as water supply lines.

In an effort to improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety, new sidewalks will be installed in the area, Healdsburg Avenue south of the intersection will be narrowed to two lanes and a single lane traffic roundabout – the most visible part of the project – will be installed.

A website has been established to inform residents about the project. www.healdsburgaveimprovements.com will be updated regularly and a hotline – 707-540-9964 – has been set up to field questions about the work.

The city has pledged to work with adjacent businesses during the project, to keep traffic flowing and minimize disruption.

An open house to educate the community more about the project is planned for this summer, but no date has been set.

City will keep 5-way intersection open during construction

By Ray Holley, Healdsburg Tribune, Managing Editor

The southern entrance to downtown Healdsburg will be even busier than usual for the next 16 months.

A large public works project begins next month, which includes replacing a century-old creek culvert, placing utilities under ground, improving pedestrian access and building a roundabout in the five-way intersection of Mill Street, Vine Street and Healdsburg Avenue.

Responding to neighboring merchant concerns over possible street closures, the City Council approved a $10.3 million contract with Bay Cities Paving & Grading that includes keeping the intersection open while work proceeds in segments.

City officials will work with the contractor to explore ways to accelerate the project, which is expected to begin next month.

The Tribune will publish a map of the work in the next few weeks and will periodically publish construction schedule updates.

Thumbs up: A direct route on roundabout

By  The Press Democrat Editorial Board

Healdsburg Ave. at Mill Street and Westside Road in Healdsburg, Tuesday April 5, 2016. Work is set to begin at the confusing five-way intersection that will be replaced by a roundabout that could take anywhere from seven to 16 months to complete, depending on what plan of action is taken on the closure of the intersection. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2016
Healdsburg Ave. at Mill Street and Westside Road in Healdsburg: click to enlarge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s not cut corners. Opponents of roundabouts seem locked in circular logic: i.e. roundabouts are confusing to drivers because few have been installed in the county, and Sonoma County shouldn’t install any more because they are confusing to drivers. What’s not confusing are the facts. Studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Federal Highway Administration have shown that roundabouts typically achieve a 37 percent reduction in overall accidents, a 75 percent reduction in injury collisions and a 90 percent reduction in fatal accidents. That’s because when accidents occur at roundabouts, the worst that happens are side-swipes and fender-benders. Studies also show a 40 percent reduction in pedestrian accidents.

All of this is give a big thumbs up to Healdsburg for moving ahead with plans for a roundabout where Healdsburg Avenue, Mill Street and Vine Street converge with the railroad tracks. A community open house and information session on the $10 million project is set for 5 p.m. on April 14 at City Hall. The central question now concerns whether to shut down the intersection entirely and get the project done in about seven months or to allow some traffic to trickle through while doing it in about 16 months. It seems to us that getting done more quickly, and saving $400,000 in the process, is the better route. Either way, until this project is completed, the area will be confusing. Drive around it.

Healdsburg faces impending roundabout construction, closures

By Clark Mason, The Press Democrat

Janet Browning, owner of Shoffett's off the Square, an antique collective, worries the complete closure of Healdsburg Ave. at Mill Street for the construction of a roundabout will cripple her business and cut down on foot traffic, Tuesday April 5, 2016. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2016
Janet Browning, owner of Shoffett’s off the Square. click to enlarge

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.

Downtown roundabout gets green light from City Council

The conceptual design for a roundabout traffic feature at the five-way intersection of Mill St., Vine St. and Healdsburg Ave. has been approved by the city. Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2016
The conceptual design for a roundabout traffic feature at the five-way intersection of Mill St., Vine St. and Healdsburg Ave. has been approved by the city. Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2016

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.

Meetings planned on Healdsburg’s future traffic roundabout

Clark Mason, The Press Democrat

In a tangible sign that the Healdsburg roundabout is closer to becoming reality, the city is planning a series of workshops to help explain how the traffic feature will work at one of the its major intersections.

The roundabout at the gateway to downtown is not expected to break ground until the spring of 2016. But beginning in early October and stretching over nine months the city will hold a half-dozen meetings to both answer questions and solicit input on the associated improvements to Healdsburg Avenue.

Unlike some other cities where roundabouts have been opposed, the one planned in Healdsburg is less controversial.

“There was an extensive public process and strong support for doing it,” said Jim Heid, whose Urban Green consulting firm is conducting the public outreach for the project.

“It wasn’t us force-feeding it to anyone. People came to the conclusion it was a good option for that intersection,” Councilman Tom Chambers said Friday.

The roundabout is expected to help traffic flow at the city’s tricky, five-way intersection where Healdsburg Avenue, Mill and Vine streets closely converge with the railroad tracks.

The intersection can confuse motorists, especially those who are unfamiliar with it, and can challenge pedestrians and bicyclists.

The roundabout “will be a dramatic improvement,” Chambers said. “This will move traffic through there a lot better and a lot more safely.”

Heid said roundabouts can handle more cars without the backups of traditional intersections. Vehicles move slowly, but continually, and as a result there are lower rates of fatalities and damage, he said.

Chambers said people worry about how the roundabout will work with the tracks when commuter train service is eventually restored. But he said there will be gate arms to stop traffic when a train rolls by.

“The arms go down, people stop. The arms go up, and life resumes,” he said.

The roundabout has been under consideration for more than a dozen years, but gained momentum more recently when the city embarked on a public outreach process to come up with a development plan for the central Healdsburg area.

The first three workshops to help explain the roundabout are tentatively set for Oct.1, Oct. 29 and Dec. 2. They also are intended to gather public input on design elements, from lighting to landscape, paving and even public art that will stretch along Healdsburg Avenue to Exchange Street.

The City Council earlier this year authorized a $997,000 expenditure to pay for the roundabout’s engineering design elements, including roadway, rail, hydrology, utilities, landscape architecture, preparation of construction documents and community outreach.

The actual cost of construction is estimated to be at least $2.5 million.

A significant source of funding for the project was approved and set aside by the city’s Redevelopment Agency before the state dissolved those programs in 2012.

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