Each day, hundreds of pedestrians and cyclists avoid Highway 29’s First Street overpass and take a sunken dirt route to get across — or in this case, under — the freeway.
It’s a spooky passageway through blackberry brambles, the north edge of Napa Creek and a dark, graffiti-marked mid-section filled with the roar of Highway 29 traffic overhead.
This informal path removes cyclists and pedestrians from the intimidating flow of vehicles entering and exiting First Street at the freeway, but the footing on the alternative route is rough and often slippery.
The city of Napa intends to change all that.
The city is moving ahead with the first stage of a project to build a proper, paved path along Napa Creek, below the four lanes of Highway 29, at an estimated $600,000 cost.
“It’s a vital link that’s been needed, and been considered a priority project for the bike and pedestrian communities,” Eric Whan, deputy public works director, said Thursday.
No timetable will be set for construction until Napa secures all the needed funds, he said.
Skirting the creek’s north bank in a U-shaped pattern, the 600-foot-long underpass would connect the south end of Coffield Avenue west of Highway 29 to a future trail section planned to run east to California Boulevard and D Street. Retaining walls would strengthen the path and its slope would be kept below 8 percent to meet federal standards for wheelchair access, Whan said.
The route of the bike path won City Council approval last week. Two Caltrans grants totaling $97,000 will cover most of the $100,000 design and engineering cost, with construction estimated to cost $500,000, according to Whan.
Although a narrow dirt track connects the two sides of the freeway, a fully finished hard-surface path would remove one of the stiffest roadblocks to casual cycling, according to Patrick Band, executive director of the Napa County Bicycle Coalition advocacy group.
“The more we can do to make cycling for short trips, cycling to go downtown for lunch or out to dinner, safer and accessible for anybody young or old, that’s something we absolutely support,” he said.