The scenic heart of the Napa Valley — a four-mile stretch along Highway 29 between Rutherford and St. Helena — is going to become more beautiful.
On Friday, public officials and utility companies marked a milestone in a multiyear project to bury utility lines, then widen the two-lane highway with a continuous two-way turn lane.
During a short ceremony, a Pacific Gas & Electric crew removed an eight-foot top section of the last full-length power pole along the four-mile project area. PG&E’s electrical lines and Comcast’s cables had already been removed from the poles and run through an underground conduit.
This left 176 stubby utility poles along the highway and side streets that won’t be fully removed until the spring of 2015, the county estimates. AT&T has yet to take down its lines, which hang lower on the poles, and bury them.
Even shaving off seven or eight feet from the poles “helps the viewshed a lot,” said Elizabeth Emmett, a county spokesperson.
By one reckoning, this project started in 1983 when the state planned a center left-turn lane from Yountville to St. Helena. The section from Yountville to Rutherford was built in the mid-1990s, along with utility undergrounding.
According to PG&E, the latest effort to bury electrical, cable and phone lines between Rutherford and St. Helena is the largest undergrounding effort in the utility’s history.
The utility companies are not only burying lines along four miles of Highway 29, but another four miles along intersecting side streets, PG&E said.
A cost estimate for this work was not immediately available Thursday. PG&E’s share is being reimbursed by a special fund that every customer contributes to when they pay their PG&E bill.
Local jurisdictions are given credits from this undergrounding fund so they can pay for projects of their choosing. The city of St. Helena and Napa County allocated many years’ worth of these credits to pay for the work wrapping up along Highway 29, Emmett said.
The poles should be totally gone by the spring of 2015, then Caltrans will tackle the construction of the continuous left turn lane down the middle of the highway.
This construction is expected to last from 2015 to 2017, resulting in a highway that is both safer for motorists ... and more beautiful.