A funding hole that threatened efforts to build a 9.4-mile Napa Valley Vine Trail segment linking St. Helena and Calistoga has been filled, though more holes could emerge.
The project needed an extra $800,000 to keep moving ahead with pre-building studies. Napa County will provide $324,000, the nonprofit Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition $200,000 and the cities of Calistoga and St. Helena $138,000 apiece.
On Tuesday, the Napa County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved contributing the county’s portion.
“This is always difficult, because this is real money,” Napa County Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said. “But I think this is what we need to do.”
The St. Helena City Council also committed to its funding piece on Tuesday. Councilmembers David Knudsen and Paul Dohring expressed concern about the “drip” of Vine Trail spending, though no one cast a negative vote.
“Working on our bicycle culture here is very important,” Mayor Geoff Ellsworth said.
The Calistoga City Council unanimously committed to its share on Sept. 17. City Councilmember Donald Williams said that, while he believes people will enjoy the Vine Trail, he has a concern.
“It sounds like we just don’t know how much additional funding will be entailed,” Williams said. “By approving this, are we writing a blank check? ... Or maybe you can assure me the costs are not going to balloon out of control.”
He received no guarantees that Calistoga won’t be asked for more money, but enough assurances on the oversight that he cast an “aye” vote.
Money is to go toward completing design and environmental work for the proposed trail segment. This is on top of a total of $650,000 previously committed by the county, Vine Trail Coalition, St. Helena and Calistoga before the shortfall emerged.
The Napa Valley Vine Trail is to someday go 47 miles from Vallejo to Calistoga. Bikers, walkers and runners can be seen regularly on popular, existing segments between the city of Napa and Yountville and along the Napa River and Napa Valley Wine Train tracks in the city of Napa.
In 2015, the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition and Napa Valley Transportation Authority (NVTA) secured a $6.1 million state grant to go toward construction costs for a St. Helena-to-Calistoga segment. A county report said that, if the NVTA can’t complete the pre-building work, the $6.1 million grant would be forfeited.
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More budget challenges could arise. Construction costs for the St. Helena-to-Calistoga segment could vary from $9.7 million to $14.2 million, with a possible shortfall of $1.2 million to $5.6 million. Much depends on where the trail actually goes, a county report said.
NVTA is working with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to find more money. If that effort fails, the NVTA might ask the county, Vine Trail Coalition, St. Helena and Calistoga for further contributions, the county report said.
“There’s a fair amount of optimism at this point that many of the route problems can be solved on the cheaper end,” county Public Works Director Steven Lederer said. “But we won’t know until it’s done.”
For example, using an existing Caltrans bridge on Highway 29 over Mill Creek could save $500,000. Using PG&E easements after the utility replaces a gas line running along the proposed trail alignment could save $2 million to $3 million, the county report said.
Getting the project ready to build could prove harder than actually building it.
“It’s a pretty simple project after we get the nitty-gritty design work done,” NVTA Executive Director Kate Miller told the Napa Valley Register on Tuesday.
St. Helena resident Lois Battuello wrote a letter to St. Helena warning against allowing part of the St. Helena-to-Calistoga segment run on rural Ehlers Lane north of the city.
“Ehlers Lane is a farm-to-market lane, not a bicycle or running trail, which is a purely recreational use that is not permitted in the ag preserve,” she wrote.
Chuck McMinn of the Vine Trail Coalition at Tuesday’s St. Helena City Council meeting said landowners have given verbal right-of-way offers that would allow this part of the trail to remain along Highway 29. The Ehlers Lane option would be a backup.
The $800,000 shortfall to complete design and environmental work came to light in June. The NVTA had estimated that the work would cost $750,000, based on similar work done for the Oak Knoll segment.
But the lone bid by RSA + came in at $2.5 million. The NVTA negotiated this down to $1.5 million, leaving the $800,000 gap. An NVTA report said the Oak Knoll segment had a different project scope and the bid market since that project has changed significantly.
McMinn at a June NVTA meeting said the $200,000 being provided by the Vine Trail Coalition toward the $800,000 shortfall is above and beyond $2.4 million it has already committed to the project.