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American Canyon traffic

Evening rush-hour traffic can make for a long drive on Highway 29 through American Canyon. The City Council on Tuesday talked about upcoming projects to try to ease the problem.

Highway 29 through American Canyon is being targeted for congestion-easing changes in coming years, though the supposed big fix of creating a wider, six-lane version remains a distant, and perhaps fading, dream.

The American Canyon City Council on Tuesday heard a transportation update. The focus was on such things as coordinated Highway 29 traffic signals that could come this year and a key Devlin Road reliever route segment now set for construction in 2020.

Highway 29 through American Canyon is one of Napa County’s major traffic chokepoints. About 40,000 vehicles use the four-lane road on an average day and rush-hour motorists crawl along, with some seeking relief by taking to city residential side streets as alternate routes.

“The big project in our world is State Route 29,” Napa Valley Transportation Authority Executive Director Kate Miller told the City Council.

Local officials are hoping a small Highway 29 project will make a difference. By year’s end, Caltrans intends to have what it calls an “adaptive signal control project” up and running.

Five Highway 29 traffic signals in American Canyon will be tied into the Caltrans District 4 Traffic Management Center in Oakland, Caltrans officials said. Changes to signal timing will be made according to real-time traffic conditions using algorithms.

“The more green you have on your route, the more you’re moving,” American Canyon Mayor Leon Garcia said.

Other efforts are underway. Miller told the council about an upcoming State Route 29 Comprehensive Multimodal Corridor Plan. That plan is needed for American Canyon highway projects to tap into funding from the state Senate Bill 1 fuel and vehicle tax hikes.

The Multimodal Corridor Plan could include better crosswalks, more convenient bus stops, improvements along parallel corridors and bike-and-walking paths. The idea from the 2014 State Route 29 Gateway Corridor Improvement Plan of expanding Highway 29 from four lanes to six lanes in American Canyon – three lanes running in each direction – isn’t in the mix.

“There are some significant changes,” City Councilmember David Oro said, “because the city here, our citizens, believe three lanes are coming on each side, that we will expand that highway.”

Miller didn’t say the dream of a six-lane Highway 29 is dead. But she described several significant barriers.

For example, many potential highway improvement funding sources don’t pay for expanding capacity. Caltrans has trouble maintaining its existing infrastructure. Widening a bridge over Paoli Loop Road and the railroad tracks would be expensive.

“I appreciate the argument,” City Councilmember Mark Joseph said. “There’s part of me that says you have a lot more convincing to do.”

He wasn’t alone.

“Frankly, myself, I’m not at the point where I’m going to give up a third lane,” Garcia said.

Neither was City Councilmember Kenneth Leary.

“I want to ask that you look at the six-lane solution,” Leary told Miller.

Miller said a highway project miles away in Solano County might make a difference for American Canyon traffic. That is improving the connector ramp from eastbound Highway 12 through Jameson Canyon to eastbound Interstate 80 near Fairfield.

Turning this one-lane connector ramp into a two-lane ramp would help remove a rural Jameson Canyon afternoon rush-hour bottleneck. That, in turn, might encourage more I-80-bound drivers to take Highway 12 through Jameson Canyon instead of Highway 29 through American Canyon.

Construction of the improved Highway 12-and-I-80 ramp is to begin in summer of 2020, according to the Solano Transportation Authority.

Another effort to make at least a small dent in Highway 29 traffic is finishing off Devlin Road. The city and Napa County are taking the final steps to complete this 3.5-mile parallel route from American Canyon to Highway 29 near the Grapecrusher statue.

American Canyon had sought to begin construction this summer on the half-mile segment between Middleton Way and Green Island Road. Work would finish in 2020. That hinged on the California Transportation Commission (CTC) advancing $4.1 million in state funds scheduled to be released for the project in 2021-22.

After talking with CTC staff, American Canyon has decided to seek a shorter advance that will allow construction to begin in 2020, but in such a way that takes advantage of the entire summer construction season. This could still allow the project to finish by the end of 2020.

“It will be cause for celebration,” Garcia said.

Joseph said a completed Devlin Road parallel route also raises a question. The American Canyon general plan shows a link ultimately being made from Devlin Road to residential areas a short distance away, creating American Canyon’s long-planned west side connector.

But a west side connector is controversial. Some residents fear it will increase the number of motorists fed up with Highway 29 congestion who seek traffic relief by driving through their neighborhoods.

Christopher James and Tammy Wong have done speed studies on their residential street, Wetlands Edge Road. Using an automated speed camera, they created a “rogues’ gallery” with photos of autos going between 35 mph and 53 mph. The speed limit is 25 mph.

James told the City Council that the city in 1999 went against its general plan and allowed homes along Wetlands Edge Road. As a result, it promised never to make Wetlands Edge Road an alternative to Highway 29, something a west side connector would accomplish.

Joseph said he wants the city to convene a group to talk about the west side connector alternatives. Wong urged to the city to send out mailers to get residents involved.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.