In a tangible sign that the Healdsburg roundabout is closer to becoming reality, the city is planning a series of workshops to help explain how the traffic feature will work at one of the its major intersections.
The roundabout at the gateway to downtown is not expected to break ground until the spring of 2016. But beginning in early October and stretching over nine months the city will hold a half-dozen meetings to both answer questions and solicit input on the associated improvements to Healdsburg Avenue.
Unlike some other cities where roundabouts have been opposed, the one planned in Healdsburg is less controversial.
“There was an extensive public process and strong support for doing it,” said Jim Heid, whose Urban Green consulting firm is conducting the public outreach for the project.
“It wasn’t us force-feeding it to anyone. People came to the conclusion it was a good option for that intersection,” Councilman Tom Chambers said Friday.
The roundabout is expected to help traffic flow at the city’s tricky, five-way intersection where Healdsburg Avenue, Mill and Vine streets closely converge with the railroad tracks.
The intersection can confuse motorists, especially those who are unfamiliar with it, and can challenge pedestrians and bicyclists.
The roundabout “will be a dramatic improvement,” Chambers said. “This will move traffic through there a lot better and a lot more safely.”
Heid said roundabouts can handle more cars without the backups of traditional intersections. Vehicles move slowly, but continually, and as a result there are lower rates of fatalities and damage, he said.
Chambers said people worry about how the roundabout will work with the tracks when commuter train service is eventually restored. But he said there will be gate arms to stop traffic when a train rolls by.
“The arms go down, people stop. The arms go up, and life resumes,” he said.
The roundabout has been under consideration for more than a dozen years, but gained momentum more recently when the city embarked on a public outreach process to come up with a development plan for the central Healdsburg area.
The first three workshops to help explain the roundabout are tentatively set for Oct.1, Oct. 29 and Dec. 2. They also are intended to gather public input on design elements, from lighting to landscape, paving and even public art that will stretch along Healdsburg Avenue to Exchange Street.
The City Council earlier this year authorized a $997,000 expenditure to pay for the roundabout’s engineering design elements, including roadway, rail, hydrology, utilities, landscape architecture, preparation of construction documents and community outreach.
The actual cost of construction is estimated to be at least $2.5 million.
A significant source of funding for the project was approved and set aside by the city’s Redevelopment Agency before the state dissolved those programs in 2012.