After years of planning, two ballot initiatives, traffic snarls and fatal crashes, the long-awaited Jameson Canyon Road/Highway 12 widening project will be completed by the end of next week.
Given that history, the elected officials who gathered at the Jamieson Ranch Vineyards for a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday morning reflected a mixture of moods — at times somber, mirthful, thankful and relieved.
To the relief of the tens of thousands of commuters who travel Jameson Canyon every day and have sat through lane closures and other construction-related slowdowns, the construction crews have only minor striping, drainage and shoulder work to complete, Caltrans spokesman Vince Jacala said.
Some elected officials also held up the $126 million project, which widens a 6-mile stretch of Highway 12 in between Napa and Solano counties from two lanes to four, as an example of a major transportation project in California done correctly.
The project had two sections — one on the Napa County side, and another, more extensive, phase in Solano County — and each contract was completed on time and on budget. The work began in 2012, with Ghilotti Bros Inc. and Ghilotti Construction Co. each taking on one side of the project.
U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said the highway is a vital corridor for commuters and commerce in Northern California, but also one badly in need of safety improvements.
The highway was responsible for numerous fatal crashes involving residents of Napa and Solano counties over the years, but now has a center concrete median separating the opposite lanes of traffic.
“We’ve all been down this canyon before,” Garamendi said. “It was not much fun.”
A large portion of the money for the project, $74 million, came from Proposition 1B, a statewide voter-approved bond package passed in 2006. An earlier tax initiative, Measure H, was pitched to Napa County voters in 2002 that would have helped pay for the project with a hike in sales tax, but they rejected it on the argument that it should be a state-funded project.
State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, said the state owes a debt of gratitude to voters for approving that initiative. It also took some behind-the-scenes wrangling at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission with Napa County Supervisor Bill Dodd and Solano County Supervisor Jim Spering convincing their fellow elected officials in the Bay Area of the need to pay for the project.
Dodd said the commissioners ultimately decided to put the Jameson Canyon project on a list above larger-scale projects in Alameda, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties, which was crucial in getting the state bond funding needed.
Dodd, who spoke last out of 10 speakers at the ceremony, held a moment of silence for victims of fatal crashes on the highway before speaking.
“This project needed to be done,” Dodd said. “Good things don’t always come quickly in government, but we can celebrate today.”
The Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency also contributed $36 million it would otherwise get from the state government for local highway projects to Jameson Canyon, and MTC added $14 million. U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, said the federal government helped get Jameson Canyon off the ground financially by securing almost $9 million in initial funding.
Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, said his daughter was killed in a fatal car crash, and he recognizes the need for highway safety projects like Jameson Canyon. The concrete barrier may not seem like a big deal to passing motorists, but Frazier said it will save lives.
“The people that we’re saving because of this project will never know,” Frazier said. “This is a good example of what gets accomplished with good money being spent. This is very much a critical strip of roadway.”
Caltrans is working on a multi-year project to improve traffic flow along Interstate 80 where Highway 12 intersects. Long range, NCTPA and Caltrans have a plan for an interchange at Highway 12/Jameson Canyon and Highway 29 on the Napa County end.
Rep. Garamendi's home city has been corrected since first posting.