Improvements to the busy intersection at Petrified Forest Road and Foothill Boulevard have been on the city books for decades. Now, with money to support the project, the city council voted on Tuesday evening to move forward with installing a stoplight, despite contention from residents and concerns from the public and the police chief.
The backups on Foothill and on Petrified Forest are well known to drivers during peak hours, and Public Works Director Mike Kirn, sitting in for City Manager Dylan Feik, said the traffic level on Foothill Boulevard is already significantly more than what the general plan allows for, with more than 80 percent commuter traffic traveling through to Sonoma, Lake and Napa Counties.
The project would cost about $1 million, and most of that cost is already covered, Kirn said. About $330,000 is already in the bank with funding from impact fees, and about $450,000 in available grants.
Plans call for a stoplight, pedestrian safety improvements, bicycle facilities, and safety lighting, which would improve air quality by reducing traffic congestion and facilitating non-vehicular forms of transportation, according to the staff report.
While members of the audience argued that the money would be better spent elsewhere, like on water quality, Kirn said the impact fee money is earmarked for expenditure on a stoplight at one of three places in town; at Foothill and Petrified Forest, Lincoln Avenue and Foothill Boulevard, or Lincoln Avenue and Fair Way.
The issue has been contentious over the years, and that was evident from testimony from residents who live on Foothill, and council members at the meeting. All agreed, however, that speed and safety are the main issues.
Council Member Don Williams said a 4-way stop sign slows down traffic, and expressed concerns that a green light will encourage drivers to speed through the intersection.
“Right now, the stop sign says ‘you’re in our home town, respect it. Pause a second before proceeding into our home base,’” he said.
Mayor Chris Canning said the majority of overall comments he receives from residents is that something needs to be done about the intersection.
“The community has been calling for some kind of mitigation and this is the best call,” he said, allowing that there could be unintended consequences to deal with.
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Calistoga Police Chief Mitch Celaya referenced a 3-car collision on Foothill Boulevard two weeks ago and said the stoplights themselves are not the sole solution.
“There are always unintended consequences and we’ll have to look at other traffic measures before we get to the lights,” he said, pointing out that traffic flow from a stoplight at Foothill and Petrified Forest will back up at the stop sign at Lincoln Avenue and Foothill Boulevard.
Foothill is also a state route, and Celaya is working with CHP and county supervisors to hash out city versus county responsibilities as “This isn’t just a commute hour problem.”
Residents speaking in favor of the stoplight said the intersection is dangerous, with some drivers not knowing who has the right-of-way.
Council Member Gary Kraus said he has heard concerns and complaints from residents of Rancho de Calistoga Mobile Home Park who have trouble pulling into the intersection, and crossing the street to the convenience store.
Comments from the public also include a letter to the city from resident David Moon-Wainwright who wrote that the stoplight is too costly and instead the city should invest in and employ trained officers to direct traffic at the intersection.
Another potential issue is a proposed community of new homes on the 46-acre Yellow Rose Ranch property on Foothill Boulevard near Petrified Forest Road. The proposal calls for 121 market-rate homes and 54 affordable apartments.
A traffic impact study is currently underway for that project.
Williams was the sole dissenting voice in approving the stoplight project, with Council Member Irais Lopez-Ortega recusing herself, as she lives near the intersection.