A $349 million, 20-year plan to expand Highway 29 in southern Napa County drew debate from elected officials Wednesday on whether it was worth the cost to fix the traffic snarls snagging motorists between Napa and American Canyon.

The plan, created with $300,000 in funding from Caltrans, was presented to the Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency’s board of directors on Wednesday.

It calls for a series of widenings and improvements centered on Highway 29 from south Napa to north Vallejo. Highway 29 would become six lanes from American Canyon Road to Highway 12/Jameson Canyon, gain a new interchange at the Highway 12/29 junction, and acquire a flyover at the Highway 29/Hwy 221 (Soscol) intersection.

In American Canyon, new bicycle paths and sidewalks would be added as well, including a connection to the planned Vine Trail that will link Calistoga to the Vallejo Ferry terminal.

The Highway 29/Carneros Highway junction west of the Butler Bridge would also be improved, allowing northbound traffic on 121 to merge onto 29 without stopping at a traffic light.

The cost estimate for the project varies from $325 million to $349 million, but doesn’t include the costs of acquiring property and rights of way, said Sophie Martin, a consultant working with the urban planning firm Dyett & Bhatia, which helped produce the plan.

Funding sources have not been identified, but NCTPA will submit the plan to Caltrans at the end of this month.

Yountville Town Councilmember Margie Mohler questioned if the plan would shorten commute times in the south county.

“That is the idea,” Martin said.

But Martin couldn’t identify how much commute times would be shortened, which lead Yountville Mayor John Dunbar to question if the project could be taken on a piecemeal basis by targeting cheaper, more feasible improvements first such as adding sidewalks or bike lanes.

“You’re looking at far greater than $349 million,” Dunbar said. “Can you really tell us what this gets us at the end? If you’re talking about $350 million for 30 seconds of improved travel time, it doesn’t seem like much of a bargain.”

That provoked a response from Napa County Supervisor Keith Caldwell, who said some of the traffic problems choking American Canyon were attributed to winery, hotel and other development projects Upvalley.

Except for the city of American Canyon, “we have created more jobs than we have housing opportunities,” Caldwell said of the rest of the Napa Valley.

“We don’t seem to care about (traffic impacts in the south county) until we have to get to the airport on time,” he said pointedly.

American Canyon City Councilwoman Joan Bennett said her city is attempting to address the traffic woes as best it can, but those plans can be overwhelmed by large development projects such as Napa Pipe, which the county and the city of Napa are working on.

“We’re not just sitting back on our elbows,” Bennett said.

Mohler returned to the cost of the project. “It’s a lot of dollars we’re going to spend,” she said. “What’s the end result?”

Caldwell responded by saying that large-scale improvements to Highway 29 in American Canyon have been sorely lacking for years.

“Other than some left-hand turn pockets and a whole lot of traffic signals it looks the same,” Caldwell said. “What this document does is — no pun intended — is provide a road map.”

The NCTPA board, composed of elected leaders of each city and the county, ended up voting to submit the Highway 29 improvement plan to Caltrans.

Napa Mayor Jill Techel pointed out the plan started development more than a year ago, and at the beginning elected officials were largely focused on their own jurisdictions. That changed as the planning went on, and she said the plan should be moved forward with Caltrans.

“It was all about what I wanted for Napa, and you wanted for American Canyon, and what you wanted for the county,” Techel said. “It’s been great to see that conversation change. It’s our goal to move this on.”

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