Roundabouts are being considered on Highway 29 — the thoroughfare for Napa Valley wine country — at Rutherford Cross Road and Oakville Cross Road.
Local transportation officials are talking about tapping into a Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) “Quick-Strike” grant program that has project nominations due in March.
“These would be within the next five years,” county Board of Supervisors Chairperson and county MTC representative Alfredo Pedroza said. “This is an aggressive timetable.”
County Public Works Director Steven Lederer said that, in an ideal world, construction would begin within about a year. It appears roundabouts would fit at these intersections, but that is among the things being studied, he said.
Also possible is building a roundabout on Highway 29 at Madison Street in Yountville to replace a traffic signal, though Pedroza said the proposed Oakville Cross Road and Rutherford Cross Road roundabouts are the immediate priorities.
The Highway 29 intersections at Oakville Cross Road and Rutherford Cross Road have stop signs for the cross streets only, with Highway 29 traffic zipping through. Napa Valley Transportation Authority (NVTA) Executive Director Kate Miller said roundabouts could address several traffic issues.
For one thing, turning from the crossroads either left or right onto Highway 29 is difficult amid heavy traffic. Miller said roundabouts would make these turns safer.
Also, roundabouts would meter Highway 29 traffic that slows down to enter them. This would create gaps in the traffic stream, so traffic down the road could more easily enter Highway 29.
And roundabouts would make it easier for cyclists using a planned Vine Trail segment to the west to cross Highway 29 at Rutherford Cross Road and Oakville Cross Road to restaurants and stores, she said.
Pedroza said transportation officials are working with property owners near the intersections to explain the proposals.
“We want to do this with them,” he said. “We want folks to understand there are improvements to be made at those intersections that are win-win as far as making the intersections safer and improving traffic.”
Napa Wine Company is located at the intersection of Highway 29 and Oakville Cross Road. The custom crush winery with a tasting room would be adjacent to a roundabout at this location.
“I’m open to the possibility,” said Kendall Hoxsey-Onysko, business manager for the winery. “Certainly, traffic has always increased as the decades have gone on. At least so far, things sound good.”
Trucks come and go at the winery, as well as head on Highway 29 to other destinations. An Oakville Cross Road roundabout would have to be able to handle trucks, she said.
Fitting in a roundabout might require the winery to give up a piece of its property with two to three parking spaces, she said. But a roundabout could help employees who make a left turn from Oakville Cross Road to head south on Highway 29.
“We’re assessing all the angles here,” she said.
The NVTA and the Rutherford Dust Society took a hard look at a Rutherford Cross Road roundabout 15 years ago. Advocates said a roundabout would improve safety at an intersection that had 11 accidents from 2002 to 2004. It would fit in better with the rural area than a traffic signal.
In one of the Napa Valley Register’s last reports on that previous proposal, the NVTA was trying to convince Caltrans that a Highway 29 roundabout at Rutherford Cross Road would be a good idea.
Miller said some things have changed since that earlier effort. That version of a roundabout would have entailed moving nearby Napa Valley Wine Train tracks. The new version wouldn’t be perfectly round, but could be oblong so as not to require any track relocation.
Also, Caltrans has since embraced the idea of roundabouts. Among other projects, the agency helped bring three roundabouts to the city of Napa that includes the northbound Highway 29 offramp at First Street. That project also includes roundabouts at California Boulevard and Second Street.
Another new Caltrans-approved roundabout can be found in neighboring Solano County between Fairfield-Suisun and Rio Vista at the intersections of Highway 12 and Highway 113.
“Caltrans owns the infrastructure,” Miller said. “They ultimately have to approve any designs we do.”
A roundabout could cost $5 million to $6 million. But much is still unknown about what the possible projects at Rutherford Cross Road and Oakville Cross Road might entail, transportation officials said.
“We’re optimistic,” Pedroza said. “We’re moving very quickly.”
The MTC Quick-Strike grant program has nominations due on March 30, and MTC approving projects on June 23.
WATCH NOW: CELEBRATING NAPA VALLEY’S NATURAL BEAUTY
SEE BALLOON ARCHES AND OTHER SHAPES