Highway 29 traffic in AmCan

Officials representing American Canyon and south Napa County want the Napa Valley Transportation Authority to prioritize funds for road work in their area. Highway 29 in American Canyon is a choke point for rush hour traffic. 

American Canyon representatives are making a pitch that south county Highway 29 traffic congestion is a problem for the entire Napa Valley, and transportation dollars are needed for fixes.

Napa County Supervisor Belia Ramos said that much of the Upvalley workforce travels through the south county each day. Ramos’ 5th supervisorial district includes American Canyon.

“South county congestion is not just an American Canyon problem; it is not just a south county problem,” Ramos said.

She and other American Canyon representatives broached the topic at the July 19 Napa Valley Transportation Authority meeting, with mixed results. Ramos, American Canyon Mayor Leon Garcia and American Canyon City Councilman Mark Joseph are among the NVTA board members.

Highway 29 in the south county during rushhour can be eight miles of stop-and-go frustration. A four-lane road with traffic signals at various intersections in one of the county’s fast-growing areas sometimes has speeds that a bicyclist can surpass.

Ramos presented a map titled the “South County Big Map of Everything.” Projects listed included making Highway 29 intersection improvements at Highway 221 and at Highway 12, completing Devlin Road and Newell Drive as highway reliever routes, widening Highway 29 through American Canyon to six lanes, synchronizing traffic signals and building a Rio Del Mar railroad undercrossing.

Some of these projects appeared in the NVTA’s 2014 State Route 29 Gateway Corridor Improvement Plan. Others, such as Devlin Road and Newell Drive, have appeared in such places as general plans for Napa County and American Canyon.

Board member and Yountville Mayor John Dunbar didn’t immediately embrace every project on the map as being appropriate for an NVTA priority plan of action.

“I’m looking at an America Canyon Public Works to-do list, not an NVTA to-do list,” Dunbar said during the meeting.

Indeed, the logo at the top of the map said “City of American Canyon,” complete with the American Canyon seal.

Ramos after the meeting said she disagrees with Dunbar. She said Napa County can’t ignore its southern entry point and called the projects “a regional congestion management work list.”

More transportation dollars will be available from such sources as the state gas tax increase and a possible bridge toll hike, Ramos said. She wants the NVTA Board at future meetings to discuss congestion management in the framework of a complete highway system, not individual projects.

“That will help us prioritize the order of projects that will provide congestion relief,” Ramos said.

Ramos and several other board members saw some quick south county congestion relief possible. They wanted the NVTA to try to obtain a $5 million advance on state funds to help complete Devlin Road in the airport industrial area.

Most of Devlin Road already exists. But there are two gaps: one near Tower Road in the unincorporated county and one near Green Island Road in American Canyon.

With a complete Devlin Road in place, freight traffic would be able to bypass Highway 29 from the southern city of Napa to Green Island Road in American Canyon, an NVTA report said.

“Until you get this puppy done, plan on miserable (congestion) every week,” Joseph said. “This is a relatively small chunk of dollars to address a very big issue.”

Garcia agreed.

“This is an issue that affects all areas of the valley,” he said. “It’s your workforce coming in every day.”

Ramos pointed out that a completed Devlin Road would provide an alternate route during occasions when Highway 29 in the American Canyon area is closed by accidents. Depending on where the accident is located, the roundabout detour now can mean having to go through Solano County.

But the NVTA has a policy of prioritizing these state funds for large highway projects. Devlin Road isn’t a highway project. For that reason, the NVTA Technical Advisory Committee consisting largely of public work directors on July 13 recommended against the move.

Napa Mayor Jill Techel said she’s interested in looking at the whole corridor for planning and that can’t be done in an instant. She didn’t think the Devlin Road project should be eligible at this time for the funding method suggested and wants to find other money.

Dunbar said seeking an advance on state funds for Devlin Road would be leapfrogging the NVTA’s process and affect the agency’s ability to serve other parts of the county. St. Helena and other Upvalley communities have priorities, he said.

“I think it’s a dangerous precedent to set,” Dunbar said.

The proposal to seek an advance on state funds for Devlin Road, combined with seeking funds for improvements at Soscol Junction — Highway 29 at Highway 221 — failed to gain NVTA Board support.

Voting “no” and prevailing were Techel, Dunbar, Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning, St. Helena City Councilman Paul Dohring and Yountville City Councilwoman Kerri Dorman. Voting “yes” were Ramos, Garcia, Joseph and county Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza. Abstaining was Napa City Councilwoman Doris Gentry.

Since the vote is weighted to population areas, the motion failed 9-8. The Board then voted to seek funds for Soscol Junction only, given that it has long been an NVTA priority project. Garcia dissented.

Ramos said there will be more to come on completing the two remaining Devlin Road segments.

“We will be back at it, exploring other options,” she said.

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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.