When the first citizens advisory committee of the Caltrans-funded Highway 29 improvement study met in Napa on Wednesday evening, the agenda quickly slowed to a crawl with bumper-to-bumper questions.
While discussions at two previous public workshops in American Canyon and Napa were mostly guided by blue-sky assumptions and wish lists, committee members wanted hard data — lots of it.
The need for specifics on traffic volume, the impact of the widening Highway 12 through Jameson Canyon and why someone representing the city of Vallejo and Solano County wasn’t at the table were just some of the concerns expressed.
“Who is in the car?” Chuck McMinn, executive director of Napa Valley Vine Trail, asked. “Numbers are meaningless unless you know that.”
Bill Stevenson of The Doctors Company wanted statistics such as where the most accidents on Highway 29 occurred and the timing of traffic signals.
“How much through traffic do we want to accommodate or do we want to divert?” Hans Korve, a resident of the county and a transportation planner, asked.
When answers weren’t immediately forthcoming, some members were frustrated.
“I feel like we’re going at this backwards,” said Deborah Dommen of Treasury Wine Estates. “I need more information to make up my mind.”
Some thought the committee’s role should be more than advisory. “I guess I came to this thing thinking we have a lot more power,” said McMinn.
Matt Taecker, of urban planning firm Dyett & Bhatia, said the final decision on a plan will be made by the study’s steering committee made up of the mayors of the affected cities, the Caltrans regional director and other transportation and government officials from Napa and Solano. The steering committee met in November and appointed the citizens committee members.
The $300,000 study deals with an eight-mile stretch of the highway from the south county line north to Trancas Street in Napa. Despite assurances that Solano County was creating a plan that would dovetail with Napa’s, some members were skeptical.
“We can’t do this unless Solano County is sitting here,” said Korve. The 20-member committee has a seat reserved for a Vallejo resident that has not been filled.
As at the Napa workshop, some committee members equated highway improvement with simply moving traffic. But David Oro and others from American Canyon said safety of school children and other pedestrians was at least as important.
“We live with that traffic,” Oro said, who wants residents to be able to cross the highway safely.
Nance Matson, chair of American Canyon Open Space Committee, said Highway 29 is the main thoroughfare of a “vibrant community” and should be an asset for residents and local businesses.
“We have a right to define our character as something other than a warehouse or a freeway,” said American Canyon resident Keith Pepper.
McMinn agreed citizens were right to expect more.
“It’s criminal there are no sidewalks along the highway, no biking or hiking facilities,” McMinn said.
As he stated at the fall workshops, urban planner Terence Bottomley said the study’s goal was to plan a “complete street,” with provisions for bicycles, pedestrians and public transportation.
Kate Miller, executive director of Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency (NCTPA), said the results of an ongoing study to identify the highway’s travelers would be made available as soon as possible. Project manager Rajeev Bhatia, and Eliot Hurwitz of NCTPA, promised to respond to emailed requests for statistical information.
Highway 29 corridor improvement, Miller said, was a long-term project that would have to be completed in segments, not all at once.
Differing viewpoints and priorities aside, one thing everyone seemed to agree on was presenting a unified voice to Caltrans, the road’s owner. Oro suggested that the timing of the study is good, that the state transportation department was ready to work with the county to solve the congestion and enhance the experience of Napa Valley visitors.
“A solution is a lot closer (than ever) on the political front,” Oro said.
At the conclusion of the two-hour meeting, Oro was made chair and Korve vice chair of the committee by consensus.
Despite the seeming diversions, Taecker said he was generally satisfied with how the meeting went.
“We got a really clear understanding where people stand,” he said. “It sharpened our focus what to do before we meet next.”
The date for the next committee has not been set, but was suggested for the end of January. The timeline of the study calls for a finished plan by May, 2013.