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Napa County’s roundabout revolution is underway, with the city of Napa’s major First Street/California Boulevard/Second Street project being constructed and more on the planning books.

For better or worse, a drive through Napa Valley by the mid-2020s could include several major roundabouts. The community won’t rival Carmel, Indiana—which claims to be the nation’s roundabout leader with more than 100 – but today’s drivers should notice a difference.

Here is a roundabout roundup of what is and could be.

Devlin Road – In the south county, Devlin Road is to be a major north-south parallel route to Highway 29. A soon-to-be-constructed section in American Canyon is to include a roundabout big enough to handle the truck traffic of the airport industrial area.

American Canyon chose the roundabout option because it has similar construction costs to a signalized intersection and reduced long-term operations and maintenance costs, City Manager Jason Holley said.

The planned Devlin Road roundabout elicited a smiling comment at a recent Planning Commission meeting from Commissioner Eric Altman.

“I keep hearing roundabouts are good for traffic calming, and the reason they’re good for traffic calming is they create more accidents so nobody can move anymore,” he said wryly.

Ernie Knodel of Napa Logistics Park—the development will build the roundabout – said studies overcame his skepticism. Roundabouts work very well, he said.

“They have fewer accidents because now you don’t have people coming to stop signs and leaving when they shouldn’t leave,” Knodel said. “If it’s a signalize intersection, people have a tendency to move through very quickly, even if they’re making turns.”

“Everybody reads the studies, nobody believes them,” Planning Commission Chair Andrew Goff quipped.

Knodel smiled, then added his team has gone beyond studies to look at roundabouts that function well.

Holley said the section of Devlin Road with the roundabout could begin construction in late 2020 or early 2021.

Soscol Junction—The northern end of Devlin Road is near the congested Highway 29/Highway 221/Soscol Ferry Road intersection. Two roundabouts are proposed there as a way to jettison the Highway 29 traffic signal.

Neither roundabout would be on Highway 29, which would be elevated. Rather, they would be to the north and south, regulating traffic entering and leaving Highway 29 or continuing between Soscol Ferry Road and Highway 221.

A Caltrans video of the Soscol Junction-to-be aired at the July 17 Napa Valley Transportation Authority Board of Directors meeting. The animated sequence shows drivers, cyclists and pedestrians navigating the two roundabouts with ease.

“That’s impressive,” NVTA Board Director and Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning said.

Judge for yourself. Go to https://www.nvta.ca.gov/soscol-junction to see the video.

Gasser roundabouts – Somebody wanting an actual and not a video roundabout experience need go no further than near the new apartment projects on the Gasser lands west of Soscol Avenue.

The developing community has two roundabouts. The larger is at Peatman Drive and Saratoga Drive near the new The Braydon Apartments. The smaller is at Peatman Drive and Sousa Lane.

But traffic here is still fairly light. The big test of the roundabouts success won’t come until all of the apartments are completed, hundreds of tenants move in and rush hour hits.

Napa Valley College roundabout – Perhaps the training wheels of local, existing roundabouts is located at the college entrance from Highway 221 near Napa State Hospital. It’s small and on weekends is sparsely traveled. Here’s a place for the roundabout-wary to learn the basics.

The college added the roundabout officially located at Mangolia Drive and James Diemer Drive in 2007.

Silverado Trail/Third Street – This is one of the most notorious city of Napa signalized intersections – four streets converge to create a rush-hour traffic nightmare.

In fall of 2015, Napa unveiled a possible solution – roundabouts. In 2016, the city partnered with the Napa Valley Transportation Authority and Caltrans to tackle the intersection problem. In February 2017, the City Council endorsed a two-roundabout option.

City Councilwoman Doris Gentry said at that 2017 meeting that she lived in Washington D.C., which has the spokes and wheels of roundabouts all over.

“You can just drive around there so effortlessly,” Gentry said. “I love the concept and the idea.”

This project is to start construction in the early 2020s.

Silverado Trail – Silverado Trail traverses the world-famous wine country of Napa Valley from north to south. There’s not a roundabout to be seen along the rural sections of The Trail – at least, not yet.

Napa County’s three-year strategic plan calls for studying ways to improve Silverado Trail traffic flow. One idea is to look at roundabouts.

Public Works Director Steve Lederer earlier this year said the Silverado Trail intersections with Deer Park Road, Oakville Cross Road and Yountville Cross Road are candidates for roundabouts. But he’s also cautious about taking pieces of the county’s prized agricultural land to make room for them.

“The county would be very judicious in analyzing land acquisition, if needed,” Lederer said.

Napa Valley Vintners in a May 2018 letter on the county’s traffic policies urged the county to investigate having roundabouts at crossroads along Highway 29 and Silverado Trail to find out where they make sense.

“It is time to stop having hypothetical discussions about the potential pros and cons and instead to implement a roundabout to collect real data,” the letter said. “Not only would this keep traffic flowing, it would also reduce the number of unsafe crossings from the cross roads and the resulting automobile accidents.”

Highway 29 – Caltrans isn’t presently pursuing any roundabouts on Highway 29 north of the city of Napa – the main drag in the heart of wine country—but the idea has come up and some think it should come up again.

In 2005, local communities were beginning to consider building roundabout on a widespread basis. One of the first ideas was to build a roundabout at Highway 29 and Rutherford Road.

Supervisor Diane Dillon said at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting that the Rutherford Road roundabout idea was dropped because of space issues. A roundabout wouldn’t fit there.

John David Rulon lives on Rutherford Road and thinks roundabouts might still play a role in the area. He makes left turns from Rutherford Road onto Highway 29, as do other residents and some patrons at the Rutherford Grill and various businesses.

“When there’s not traffic, there’s not a problem,” Rulon said. “But often there is quite a bit of traffic ... especially at the bad times, it’s almost impossible to turn left.”

Rulon agrees space is tight to build a roundabout at Rutherford Road and Highway 29. But a roundabout further to the north along Highway 29 would allow Rutherford Road drivers to turn right on to Highway 29, go to the roundabout and make a u-turn.

Another roundabout could be built to the south along Highway 29. That would afford more u-turn opportunities for drivers who would otherwise need to make a left turn from other roads and driveways.

He’s spent several weeks in France where roundabouts are all over and don’t slow traffic, Rulon said.

Another option to solve the Rutherford Road/Highway 29 intersection problem is to put a traffic signal there.

“It would be great for us on Rutherford Road,” Rulon said. “But it wouldn’t be great for the traffic coming up and down Highway 29, because it would really cause a bottleneck.”

To the south, a Highway 29 traffic light already causes backups at Madison Street at Yountville. Napa Valley Transportation Authority has on its 30-year “to-do” list an $8 million project to ease the problem. But the list doesn’t say how this could be done.

“I know we’re considering all options that make sense,” said Yountville Mayor John Dunbar, who is on the NVTA Board of Directors. “A roundabout I think is still one of those options.”

But no analysis has yet been done to see if a roundabout is viable. Perhaps the answer is different timing on the light or some other alternative, he said.

City of Napa – The city of Napa’s major roundabout project is no secret, given the construction project has torn up a busy road and led to detours.

Three roundabouts are going in within 800 feet – one on First Street at Highway 29 ramps, one at California Boulevard and First Street and one at California Boulevard and Second Street. It will be a roundabout gauntlet when completed next year.

“They say good things usually come in threes,” said Doanh Nguyen, Caltrans acting chief deputy district director, during the June 3 groundbreaking ceremony.

And Nguyen sees roundabouts as good things. They reduce speeds, don’t use electricity as do traffic signals, reduce pollution from idling cars and provide room for lots of landscaping, he said.

“Roundabouts are quite an innovation for the United States,” Napa Valley Transportation Authority Executive Director Kate Miller said at the groundbreaking. “We are not a big roundabout nation.”

Dunbar sees this city of Napa project as a good test of roundabouts.

“I think that will be a really good measure for all of these other areas,” Dunbar said. “How does it come together? Does it do what we think it’s going to do, which is (improve) traffic flow?”

The idea for roundabouts on First Street and Second Street at California Boulevard first came up in 2003.

In neighboring Solano County, another big roundabout test is coming. Caltrans is building a roundabout at the intersection of Highway 12 and Highway 113 near Rio Vista. Caltrans reported the circle is already functional, though it won’t be completed until October.

Will roundabouts in Napa County prove a hit or a flop with the local public? The answer is coming soon.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.