Napa County transportation leaders are continuing their quest to start building a $32 million bus maintenance yard by early 2020 without financially hurting long-awaited, congestion-busting highway projects.
Still on the table—but with a new twist—is spending $4.1 million in highway funds on the bus yard. This money could otherwise help build $35 million Soscol Junction at highways 29 and 221 and the $8.2 million Silverado Trail roundabouts in the city of Napa.
Napa Valley Transportation Authority policy is to use highway funds only for highway projects. Agency officials said they could make an exception in part because the bus maintenance yard is almost ready to begin construction and the two highway projects are a few years away.
The agency would try to backfill the highway money with state and federal grants. Still, the NVTA Board of Directors has been wary about spending highway funds on mass transit.
To assuage doubts, agency staff suggests adding protection in case the highway fund backfilling effort fails. An $18.5 million low-interest federal loan to help cover bus maintenance yard construction could come with the option of borrowing up to $8.5 million in additional money for Soscol Junction.
In effect, a potential low-interest Soscol Junction loan would provide a highway fund backstop as a last resort.
“The idea was to not compromise any project that is of critical importance to Napa County,” county Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza, an NVTA board member, said last week.
Simply borrowing more for the bus yard under the low-interest federal program isn’t an option because loan amounts are capped at 49 percent of project costs. But adding Soscol Junction to the mix increases the borrowing limit.
Meanwhile, a NVTA Board of Directors subcommittee will look at bus yard funding issues and options. A final version of the funding package is to return to the NVTA Board of Directors in September.
Napa Mayor Jill Techel is on the subcommittee, which has yet to meet. She said on Thursday that she wants to make certain Soscol Junction isn’t stalled.
“I want to make sure we’re not setting a precedent that might have ramifications for the future,” Techel said.
American Canyon opposes using highway funds for the bus yard. In a March 20 letter to the NVTA, City Manager Jason Holley instead suggested building the bus yard in phases or otherwise finding ways to reduce the cost.
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Redirecting the $4.1 million in highway funds to the bus facility would signal a reduction in priority for Soscol Junction to the state and Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Holley said. That would inevitably delay completion of Soscol Junction, he added.
NVTA Executive Director Kate Miller said other counties have used highway funds for transit projects.
“We’re on a different trajectory than we have been,” Miller said. “We have been primarily a planning agency doing relatively small projects. Now we’re moving to being an agency that gets projects done. And we’re having some growing pains.”
Three sizable projects – the bus maintenance yard, Soscol Junction intersection improvements and the Napa Valley Vine Trail segment from St. Helena to Calistoga—will overlap, she said.
Miller wants to keep the bus maintenance yard project on schedule. In a report to the Board of Directors, she wrote that rising construction costs, loan interest rates increases, inefficiencies at the existing bus yard and other factors could add $2.4 million to the price tag for each year of delay.
The NVTA since 1991 has leased two acres for its Vine bus maintenance yard from the city of Napa at Jackson Street and Soscol Avenue. Agency officials said the site is too small and has too few service bays, among other shortcomings.
In 2016, the agency bought eight acres on Sheehy Court near the Napa County airport for a new bus yard. The project is to cost about $37 million, with $32 million needed for the construction phase.
To raise the $32 million construction costs, NVTA staff recommends using $5 million in various state and federal funds, the $4.1 million in highway funds, an $18.5 million low-interest federal loan and a $4.5 million state loan at a higher interest rate.
Among the two highway projects, the $35 million Soscol Junction project is to improve the congested intersection at Highway 29 and Highway 221, near the Butler Bridge and Grapecrusher statue south of the city of Napa.
The plan is to elevate Highway 29 and remove the signals so highway traffic flows unrestricted. Highway 221/Soscol Ferry Road is to run under the highway, with two roundabouts monitoring traffic entering and leaving the highway.
Miller said an updated environmental impact report is expected this fall. Construction could begin in 2022. The NVTA and Caltrans are working on the project.
The Silverado Trail/Highway 121 roundabouts projects is to cost $8.2 million and ease congestion at the five-way intersection at Silverado Trail/Third Street/Coombsville Road/East Avenue in Napa. Construction is several years away.