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St. Helena prepares to reopen Pratt bridge as Silverado Trail construction nears end

St. Helena prepares to reopen Pratt bridge as Silverado Trail construction nears end

Silverado Trail repairs

Cars pass the new retaining wall along Silverado Trail at Pratt Avenue. 

St. Helena is planning several traffic calming measures to reduce speeds on what one neighbor calls the “Pratt Speedway.”

The Pratt Avenue bridge leading to Silverado Trail has been closed since a landslide deposited tons of compressed volcanic ash onto the Trail in January 2017. With construction of a retaining wall set to end in mid-October, the council had to consider on Tuesday whether to reopen the bridge and which traffic calming measures to introduce on the residential/rural road where drivers routinely exceed the 35 mph speed limit.

The council agreed to reopen the bridge, but it’s also introducing traffic calming measures and encouraging the county Board of Supervisors, which has jurisdiction over the Pratt/Silverado intersection, to ban left turns to and from the bridge.

Public Works Director Erica Ahmann Smithies recommended reopening the bridge, noting that it and the Pope Street bridge are the only connectors between Highway 29 and the Trail within the city limits. She said closing the Pratt bridge would increase response times for emergency vehicles and eliminate a valuable evacuation corridor during a disaster.

To address concerns about speeding on Pratt, Smithies suggested installing radar speed signs and restriping the road to make it feel narrower. She recommended against a speed bump or rumble strips. They both violate the city’s fire code because of their effect on emergency vehicles responding to calls.

The council agreed with Smithies’ recommendations. They also want the Board of Supervisors to consider restrictions on the size and weight of vehicles that may cross the Pratt bridge, similar to the restrictions the city placed on the Pope Street bridge in 2012.

The council also asked staff to consider an on-demand traffic light at the troublesome intersection of Main and Pratt that would stop north-south traffic and give drivers a chance to safely turn left from Pratt onto Main.

That on-demand light was a suggestion from Ross Allen, who described himself as a resident of the “Pratt Speedway.” He said cars go as fast as 70 mph on Pratt, and reopening the bridge will only add more drivers looking to turn left from Pratt onto Main.

Allen questioned the effectiveness of banning left turns from Pratt onto the Trail. Even with signs warning of the restriction, drivers looking to head north won’t want to turn around and head back to Main, he said.

“People are going to make that left turn there as long as there’s no police presence,” he said.

Other action

- The council approved a $124,420 contract with Grindline, the company that built the St. Helena Skatepark in 2009, to rehabilitate the park. The contract includes $87,800 to do the work endorsed by the Parks and Recreation Commission, plus a $30,000 contingency and $6,620 for three years of annual inspections.

In addition to Grindline’s work, city staff will re-landscape the park, add a new entrance, and repair or replace the perimeter fence.

- Mayor Geoff Ellsworth said he notified county authorities of the illegal fireworks display that took place outside the city limits and alarmed many residents at around 1:45 a.m. Sept. 2. Ellsworth said illegal fireworks put the whole community at risk, especially during the dry fire season.

- The Public Works Department will begin the Hunt Avenue Sidewalk Gap Closure Project on Monday, Sept. 16. Construction will take place between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and is expected to be complete by Oct. 25.

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