A long-planned traffic roundabout at a tricky, five-way central Healdsburg intersection advanced this week with the City Council authorizing $997,000 for its design.

In the works for more than a dozen years, it's the first significant expenditure to make the roundabout a reality at the gateway to the downtown.

The council authorized the design contract with engineering firm GHD Inc. but the city still needs to come up with $2.5 million-to-$4 million to build it, according to city engineer Brent Salmi.

He said construction is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2016.

While roundabouts have sparked controversy in other communities, Healdsburg appears to be looking forward to this one.

"The community has spent years and years looking at this. It's what the community wants," said City Councilman Gary Plass.

The intersection where Healdsburg Avenue, Mill and Vine streets closely converge with the railway tracks can be bewildering for motorists, especially those unfamiliar with it.

"Our officers do report occasional instances of drivers becoming confused in that intersection and maybe driving down the wrong lane, or making illegal turns in that intersection," Police Chief Kevin Burke said Thursday.

There have been 12 collisions there since January 2009, which he described as typical for such a large intersection.

The roundabout is intended to make the intersection easier to navigate, safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and help connect the downtown to an adjacent industrial area considered for redevelopment.

Mayor Jim Wood said when he started on the planning commission in 2002, the concept of a roundabout was under discussion. "We're still talking, but we're moving in the right direction," he said at this week's council meeting.

Councilman Shaun McCaffrey said when he looked at the million-dollar price tag for the design, "I thought it's pretty expensive." But he said he voted for it because it will be a complete plan for a very complicated intersection, and will include aerial overflights and redoing the utilities with the involvement of many contractors.

In a 28-page report outlining the scope of work, GHD detailed the engineering design elements, including roadway, rail, hydrology, utilities, landscape architecture, preparation of construction documents and community outreach.

"Part of the project cost and scope of work is a piece to educate the community what a roundabout is, so people get an understanding of the traffic patterns and what's going in there," said Assistant City Manager David Mickaelian.

The funds for the design work come from redevelopment bonds issued before the state dissolved redevelopment agencies.

Mickaelian said money to build the roundabout could come from remaining redevelopment proceeds, utility enterprise funds, street programs, or could be financed by developers planning projects in the vicinity.

(You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.)