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Storm damage

Silverado Trail segment could be closed until Nov. 12, temporary traffic signal installed to ease congestion

Silverado Trail damage

Storm damage on Silverado Trail near St. Helena, Oct. 25, 2021. Repairs could take up to three weeks, officials said Tuesday.

Silverado Trail, one of Napa Valley wine country's two major north-south roads, could remain closed near St. Helena for more than two weeks following a washout during the Saturday/Sunday storm.

"Our (reopening) goal is by Nov. 12, though we hope to finish sooner if our contractor can work double shifts and the weather and soil conditions cooperate," county Public Works Director Steven Lederer said on Wednesday.

Temporary traffic signals are being installed to help manage snarls caused by detours. But in the end, Highway 29 Upvalley will have to do double-duty and that is a recipe for even worse congestion than usual.

One of the rainiest 24 hours locally since pioneer days — the third rainiest at Napa State Hospital — did the damage. Water blasted a large hole under a section of Silverado Trail between Meadowood Lane and Madrone Knoll Way, leaving several guard rail posts dangling in the air.

Lederer said it appears high Napa River flows possibly combined with runoff from steep hills to cause the washout.

Pavement will be removed, loose soil excavated, a new base consisting of large rocks added and the soil replaced. About 150 feet of the road will be repaved and striped and guard rails replaced, Lederer said.

Napa County as of Wednesday was working on hiring a contractor to do the work and Friday was the planned start date. The estimated cost is $400,000, though this could change based on the damage found once the pavement is removed, he said.

Meanwhile, Highway 29 commuters upvalley are experiencing rush-hour traffic woes.

Rex Stults makes the commute from the city of Napa to St. Helena. He’s seen “a little bit of chaos” — drivers in a hurry who are weaving in-and-out of traffic and trucks making three-point turns at the Pope Street bridge.

“I think we all need to leave 10 minutes earlier than we used to and be patient,” Stults said.

Others Upvalley reported that it took as long as an hour to get from Calistoga to St. Helena Tuesday night because of the congestion, about four times the normal time.

A temporary traffic signal was to be installed Wednesday afternoon at Highway 29 and Deer Park Road to help detouring drivers make a left turn onto Highway 29. The county asked Caltrans to shut down maintenance work on the highway to maximize flow.

"Unfortunately, Highway 29 is the only other north/south route for the valley floor and it can only handle a certain number of cars at any given time," Lederer said. "Drivers should avoid the area as much as practical."

All of this is with recent precedent. A January 2017 storm triggered a slide that covered Silverado Trail near Pratt Avenue, the same general area as the current storm-related problem.

Rocks of compressed volcanic material fell on the road, some roughly the size of a Volkswagen. The county closed Silverado Trail at Pratt Avenue for about eight days while building a temporary 10-foot-tall wall to catch falling rocks so vehicles wouldn’t be crushed.

Then as now, Highway 29 had to handle both the upvalley Silverado Trail traffic as well as its normal traffic load. Lederer said the result was about the same — increased Highway 29 congestion, especially during rush hour.

With history repeating itself, Stults is looking at the bright side. Napa County is amid a deep, two-year drought. Stults said he’s willing to pay the price of traffic inconvenience for the rain.

Napa State Hospital received 5.35 inches of rain for Oct. 24, the National Weather Service reported. That is the third-highest single-day total in records dating back to 1893, behind 5.85 inches on Nov. 21, 1977, and 5.69 inches on Jan. 4, 1982.

The two-day total at the hospital for the weekend was 7.31 inches. The record is 9.32 inches in 1962.

Still, Napa County learned over the weekend that you can't drown a drought in a day. The question now is whether the weekend was a fluke or a sign of things to come with this rainy season.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Brian Garcia on Wednesday noted that La Nina conditions are forecast through March. La Nina is often associated with drier winters. He said odds are the area might receive 60% to 80% of normal rainfall by the end of the rainy season.

Still, 80% of normal at Napa State Hospital would be close to 20 inches. Even that kind of dry year, while no drought-buster, would be twice as wet as the mere 10.24 inches that fell last rainy season.

Heavy rains over several days caused the Napa River in Calistoga to flow in torrents, as seen Oct. 24.

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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.

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