Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Officials Announce Plans To Widen Stretch At Jameson Canyon

Officials Announce Plans To Widen Stretch At Jameson Canyon
By Barry Eberling

Traffic moves along Highway 12 about a mile west of Interstate 80. Officials announced plans to widen the road to four lanes at a cost of $139 million. The plans will be made public Thursday. (Photo by Zachary Kaufman)

FAIRFIELD - California wants to transform rural, two-lane, congested Highway 12 through Jameson Canyon into a four-lane expressway with wide shoulders and a concrete median barrier.

The $139 million needed to improve the 9-mile major link between Solano and Napa counties is available. The California Transportation Commission provided the final

million at its June meeting.

The state Department of Transportation has released a draft environmental study for the project and is accepting comments through Sept. 25.

Caltrans officials are now ready to show their proposals to the public and answer questions. The agency will hold an open house from 6 to

8 p.m. Thursday at Nelda Mundy Elementary School, 570 Vintage Valley Drive.

Caltrans still must do design work and buy right-of-way on about 66 properties, but John Ponte of the Napa County Transportation Planning Agency said that construction could begin in 2010.

Highway 12 can be a traffic nightmare during the worst of rush hours. How much difference a new, improved Highway 12 might make remains to be seen. It would still be bookended by two traffic bottlenecks: The interstates 80 and 680 interchange and the highways 12 and 29 intersection.

"For the folks going from here to Napa, it's going to be a good improvement when it gets constructed," Solano Transportation Authority Executive Director Daryl Halls said. "But we still need to get 80/680 fixed."

People driving on the renovated Highway 12 through Jameson Canyon would see some big differences. Today's narrow, somewhat winding road looks like something that could serve a sparsely populated rural area, not the average 34,500 autos that use it daily.

The new Highway 12 would be about 2.5 times as wide in some areas, better able to serve the 62,000 autos daily expected by 2035. The days of being stuck behind slow-moving trucks that can't be passed would be over.

Westbound Highway 12 would largely use the two existing lanes and would have a 55 mph speed limit. To save money, Caltrans would wait until another day to smooth out some of the curves and dips.

Two new eastbound lanes would be built to expressway standards and could have a speed limit of up to 65 mph.

All of this comes with a visual price. A road that looks rural would be more like one found in the big city. The sheer increase in pavement would change the ambiance in Jameson Canyon.

Highway 12 would be dramatically different where it hugs the side of hills west of Fairfield. The road is now up against steep, earthen slopes. The upper slopes during storms sometimes drop dirt and rocks onto the pavement.

With the new Highway 12, there would be a deeper cut into the hill. Retention walls as tall as 85 feet would hold back the slopes and prevent erosion.

No homes would have to be removed. But the wider road would mean taking out 549 trees.

Caltrans seeks to reduce the visual changes through such steps as designing the median barrier in such a way as to reduce its mass and color contrast. Those huge hill retention walls could have a decorative stacked rock texture.

The environmental study isn't the multi-volume epic one might expect for a project of this size. Caltrans doesn't consider the environmental effects to be of the magnitude requiring a full-blown environmental impact report.

"That's because it isn't a brand-new road going through a place where there isn't anything," Ponte said. "This is widening an existing road basically through an area that's already developed."

Jameson Canyon has such things as farms, a railroad line and utility lines, Ponte said.

Eventually, the project is to include a new interchange at highways 29 and 12 in Napa, when the money becomes available. The environmental documents show two possible configurations.

Meanwhile, the STA continues preliminary work on a new interstates 80 and 680 interchange. But the agency has yet to identify the more than $1 billion needed for construction.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646, Ext. 232, or at

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