The freeway entrance into downtown Napa will be shaken up next week with the debut of a second roundabout, then the one-way directions of First and Second streets flipping on Friday between California Boulevard and Jefferson Street.
These will be the most significant traffic changes in the downtown area since First and Second in the business district became two-way in 2014 after being one-way for over a half century, said Eric Whan, the city’s deputy public works director.
Motorists should already be primed to expect the unexpected, given the major construction over the past six months at First and the freeway where three traffic roundabouts are being built.
Thousands of motorists have been forced into detours around the construction zone. Since November, many have learned to master the first roundabout on First at the freeway on- and off-ramps, Whan said.
Before First and Second flip on Friday — weather permitting — the second roundabout at the mouth of First Street will go into limited service, allowing eastbound vehicles to spin onto California Boulevard northbound, he said.
Residents on First and Second west of Jefferson have been asked not to park on the street Thursday and Friday while workers remove old signs and pavement markers in anticipation of the flip before dawn Friday, Whan said.
“We’ve done a lot of work already, with new signal heads and new wiring,” Whan said. The raised median on Jefferson between First and Second was removed to accommodate new traffic movements, he said.
“You don’t want people turning westbound onto First Street. You need to get rid of the turn pockets,” he said.
The city has been moving toward this street flip since it adopted its Downtown Specific Plan years ago. The City Council wanted two-way streets in the core of downtown to slow traffic and improve access to businesses, Whan said.
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The flip of First and Second west of Jefferson is an extension of this plan. “It will make it a bit easier for people to get off 29 and into downtown. It’s a circuitous route right now,” he said.
Instead of visitors ending up on Second Street in downtown, they’ll drive through the heart of the central business on First, he said.
The conversion of First and Second to two-way in October, 2014, forced motorists and pedestrians to learn new behaviors overnight.
“It’s weird driving on the other side of the road. You can’t help but feel like you’re breaking the rules after it being one-way all these years,” said one Napa resident.
There was a lot of horn honking and some close calls those first few days, but no major collisions, police said at the time.
Traffic on First and Second between Jefferson and California will be reduced to one lane on Thursday and Friday so workers can put down new pavement markings and signage, Whan said.
The planned third roundabout at Second and California won’t be fully functional until the end of January, when the connection to California south of Second will reopen, Whan said.
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