By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Healdsburg is moving ahead with a traffic roundabout at a key intersection, but without the opposition the circular intersections have engendered in some towns.
The $2.4 million roundabout planned for a five-way intersection south of Healdsburg Plaza is seen as way to reduce congestion, make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists and help connect the downtown to an adjacent industrial area ripe for redevelopment.
It’s viewed as a more efficient way to handle traffic at the busy and problematic crossroads of Healdsburg Avenue, the railroad tracks, Mill and Vine Streets.
“There were questions initially, but people worked their way around it,” City Councilman Tom Chambers said Tuesday of the roundabout design.
The idea gained momentum in a series of workshops and public meetings held to establish guidelines for public infrastructure and private investment in the central Healdsburg Avenue and train depot area.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm about it,” said Jerry Eddinger, a planning commissioner and former mayor.
“It will allow you cross the street without taking your life in your hands,” he said. “The way it is now, there are so many damn arrows going in different directions.”
A roundabout will be less dangerous than the current five-way intersection, “which isn’t very intuitive; It’s not symmetrical,” said Ray Holley, a publicist and newspaper columnist who along with Eddinger and Chambers was on a citizens’ committee that helped establish a vision for the Central Healdsburg area.
“It’s common for people to get out in the middle of the intersection, get confused and go the wrong way. There are accidents out there on a regular basis,” Holley said.
Roundabouts in recent years have sparked strong opposition in some Sonoma County communities, including Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Sonoma Valley. Cotati voters last year permanently banned the traffic circles.
But in Healdsburg, the view is different. Supporters say that besides making it easier to navigate the intersection, a roundabout — along with landscaping, lighting and undergrounding of utilities — is a visual enhancement. City officials say it will help brand the Central Healdsburg area as a “destination location.”
“It is very much the gateway to Healdsburg, the way most people get to Healdsburg, both visitors and residents,” said Holley.
“Certainly one of the goals of the committee was to try to make a clear connection between the more developed downtown and this area we hope will develop and become an asset to the community,” he said.
City officials last month began advertising for firms to submit their qualifications if they want to bid on designing the roundabout.
Public Works Director Mike Kirn said the City Council likely will select a design firm or team in late May or June, and then it will take 10 to 12 months before a design is approved and work can begin.
“If we can hit the construction season in the spring of 2014, I think that would be a good schedule,” Kirn said.
To pay for the roundabout, the city is counting on proceeds from its defunct redevelopment agency’s bond sales in 2010, which were issued for a number of projects. However, approval from the state Department of Finance is required.
Although redevelopment agencies were dissolved in 2011 by the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown, the state is allowing some previously planned projects to go forward. Even if the state turns down Healdsburg’s request, city officials said money should be found to create the roundabout.
“We have to deal with that intersection,” said Assistant City Manager David Mickaelian.
The development plan for the area identifies other ways to pay for improvements such as transportation grants, fees paid by developers and special assessment districts in which property owners agree to tax themselves.
Through computer modeling, the roundabout was found to significantly improve traffic operations while accommodating the turn radius needed for large trucks, and buses through “truck aprons.”
The roundabout was projected to perform considerably better than the existing intersections, even with higher future traffic volumes and the addition of train service.
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.