AMERICAN CANYON — City officials are determined to widen Highway 29 from four to six lanes through the heart of American Canyon, even if the county’s transportation agency isn’t on board with the idea.
But officials admit it won’t be easy to come up with funding for the multi-million-dollar project, or for the expansion of Newell Drive unless the county steps up with some help.
Public Works Director Jason Holley informed the City Council on March 28 that it is possible for the city to cobble together money for the expensive highway project. American Canyon has spent years making grand plans based on the addition of two lanes — a plan Kate Miller, executive director of the Napa Valley Transportation Authority, dismissed during a March 15 agency retreat attended by American Canyon council members.
“It won’t be easy” to raise the money, said Holley, but the city is in a “decent” position to do so.
Holley’s department estimates it will cost $25 million to add one lane in each direction on Highway 29 from Napa Junction Road to American Canyon Road, an area referred to locally as the Broadway District.
A staff report prepared for the City Council made clear that American Canyon should maintain course with its Broadway District Specific Plan, which calls for a wider highway and more development alongside it.
“Despite recent concerns expressed by NVTA staff, City staff does not believe a change in direction is warranted,” said the report by Holley, City Manager Dana Shigley and Community Development Director Brent Cooper.
“Given our funding strategy, level of community support for the project, considerable need for additional capacity, and desire for economic growth,” the report stated, “we recommend the City proceed with the Broadway District Specific Plan already underway.”
Holley told the council there are multiple funding sources for different aspects of the project. He said it’s a matter of matching certain needs to specific sources.
One example he gave was Regional Measure 3, a proposed Bay Area ballot measure that may come up in the November 2018 election if the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and state Legislature authorize it. Measure 3 would raise bridge tolls by as much as $3 to fund transportation projects.
“We’re essentially raising our hand” for Measure 3 funds, said Holley.
There also are grants for “multimodal facilities,” such as new bikes lanes and sidewalks, which could be explored to pay for some of the Highway 29 work, according to Holley.
The city may have to use some of its transportation impact fees leveled on developers to pay for earthwork, asphalt paving and striping related to the new lanes, the staff report noted.
After hearing all the funding options, Councilmember David Oro asked Holley why he didn’t mention Caltrans as a possibility for help. Holley said it would be difficult to get Caltrans to pony up for Highway 29 given the agency’s other priorities.
When it comes to the state highway funding program, Holley said, “our volume [of traffic] ranks pretty low” compared to other highway volumes that have hundreds of thousands of cars. Highway 29’s volume through American Canyon was estimated at about 50,000 cars a day, based on an NVTA study from a couple of years ago, according to Holley.
The city could apply to Caltrans for funding, he said, but he wouldn’t bank on getting much.
Holley’s doubts about receiving state help echoed Kate Miller’s remarks at the NVTA retreat, where she questioned the ability of Napa County to get state or federal assistance for highway widening.
Council members said they were surprised by Miller’s dismissal of adding lanes through their city — something NVTA had previously endorsed. They also questioned her claim that self-driving cars would help reduce congestion by the next decade.
“Six lanes still makes sense to me,” said Councilmember Mark Joseph, who was at the NVTA retreat.
The council agreed with Holley and Shigley that the city should push ahead with its Broadway District plan regardless of NVTA’s thinking. But the discussion of transportation issues demonstrated that American Canyon won’t try to go it alone on key road projects.
The city wants to extend Newell Drive so that it joins Highway 29, creating a byway on the east side of town to relieve some of the congestion.
Holley said completion of the northern segment of Newell would need county participation.
“We’re going to be engaging the county on this,” he said.
His office came up with three different ways to connect Newell to the highway, which would range in cost from $30 million to $75 million. “They’re all very expensive,” said Holley.
The staff report said because the Newell extension will be “a city/county owned and maintained road, we do not anticipate any state or federal funding will be available for construction, including the interchange.”
Paying for the work “must be provided by some combination of existing city/county funds and fees/exactions from future developers.”
American Canyon could use some developer transportation revenues, but that might require increasing this fee charged to developers, according to the report. In fact, it might mean doubling the fee, and doing so could discourage economic development in the city.
It may have “a dampening effect on development along the highway corridor,” the report said.
To avoid this problem, the city would like the county to pay for some of the Newell extension because, they say, it would be in the best interests of everyone.
“It will be partially in their jurisdiction and, most importantly,” the report concluded, “will serve primarily commuters and tourists from Solano County and other areas headed north to Napa and beyond.”