Napa’s best-known traffic knot is fit to be untied, according to city leaders who have approved a complete rebuilding of the oft-congested crossroads by the middle of the next decade.

A pair of roundabouts at the place where five Napa roads currently meet – at sharp angles and on an awkward slope – gained City Council support Tuesday night. The $8.2 million project will replace the existing intersection and traffic signal with one circular hub joining the Silverado Trail, Third Street and East Avenue, and another hub linking the Trail with Coombsville Road.

The new design is intended to reduce wait times by allowing drivers to move from one street to any of the others without waiting for stoplights. City engineers say a switch to roundabouts will allow vehicles to pass through the crossing in 11 seconds on average versus a forecasted 75 seconds by 2020 – and more than 2 ½ minutes by 2040.

“To delay it any further and do nothing is unacceptable; there are issues we face, and as a responsible city, we face them,” said Scott Sedgley before he and three other council members voted in favor of the overhaul (Peter Mott was absent). “It will be a safer intersection for pedestrians and bicycles and drivers alike.”

Napa and Caltrans, which oversees the part of Silverado carrying state Highway 121, are scheduled to draw up a project study, environmental documents, plans and a final cost estimate by the fall of 2021. Land acquisition is expected to continue to the end of that year, with construction planned from June 2022 to October 2024.

The twin-roundabout layout was the final survivor among more than a dozen options shared among city engineers, state and county transportation leaders, and neighborhood residents at a series of public forums since 2014. Ultimately, the plan accepted on Tuesday, known as Option 5F, strikes the best balance of traffic relief, cost and minimizing the appetite for neighboring land, city senior engineer John Ferons told the council.

A single, larger hub hooking into all five streets would have required difficult excavation into the hillside where East Avenue and Coombsville Road converge, he said. Meanwhile, another dual-roundabout plan joining the Trail with Third and Coombsville at its south hub would have boosted the cost to $12.7 million, and forced a realignment of Third Street that would have removed a commercial building that houses Pearson’s Appliance & TV and other businesses.

“To shave another four seconds off the wait time (for Option 5F), is that worth another $4 million?” said Councilwoman Juliana Inman against the more expensive traffic circle alternative.

Jay Jacobson of Napa complimented the city for listening to the concerns of nearby homeowners – especially Alta Heights residents who objected to one option limiting East Avenue, the main route into that neighborhood, to right-turn entry and exit. (The three options on Tuesday all preserved full access in all directions.)

Although the roundabouts will require Napa to acquire a residential property to the northwest and pieces of other lots, Jacobson declared the plan would preserve as much land as possible – including Napa Marble & Granite, which lies between Coombsville and East.

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“We all like the neighbors there, the businesses, the buildings,” he said. “Napa Marble is an icon not only for the neighborhood but for the whole city.”

After earlier public meetings that drew 100 or more spectators – some of them outspoken against radically changing the five-way crossing – opposition on Tuesday was mostly muted, except for one Napa man who regularly hoisted a lime-green “SAY NO TO ROUNDABOUTS” poster aloft from his City Hall seat for council members to see.

“Sometimes it’s better to follow the devil you know than the devil you don’t know,” said the sign holder, John Raymond, who questioned the need for a redesign and urged the city to spend its money on repairing other roads instead. “… Personally I would like to see it left alone; it’s cost-effective.”

The five-way Silverado intersection is one of two major crossroads slated for conversion into roundabouts. To the west, Napa and Caltrans are preparing a set of three circular hubs that will connect Highway 29 with California Boulevard and First and Second streets, in a project intended to smooth the way into downtown while eliminating the need for a costly replacement of the First Street flyover above the freeway.


Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.