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Notes from the Waterfront....
RIDING THE WINE TRAIN

When Vincent De Domenico first announced his "Wine Train" project to Napa planners, he said "it will help relieve congestion."  People would ride his "meals on wheels" train up the valley, thereby relieving traffic pressures.

Instead, De Domenico's marketing efforts result in significant advertising through any number of outlets, attracting yet more tourists.

Now, the State of California is rewarding his Wine Train with a portion of $36 million -- to enhance his operations as much as improve a dangerous intersection.  And what's De Domenico's contribution?  This is a Cal Trans "ala Disney" kickback -- an overpass at taxpayer expense.  Most businesses have to pay mitigation fees in Napa County for any left or right turn lane improvements, signals, etc.  What's Vinnie paying?  Oh, forgot, he's one of the boys.  Sorta like Fast Eddie De Bartolo with his "interests" in restaurants in St. Helena ... (Eddie by the way is "franchising" Tomatina ventures "across the east coast" and plans five restaurants for his new hometown, Tampa, Florida).

And what does the Wine Train do?  It serves wine and meals ... and continues to have visions of condemning properties to go all the way to Calistoga, and to leave off and pick up tourists.  Voters have repeatedly rejected his plans.  Walt Disney Corp has all but gotten the boot.  But De Domenico continues to enjoy the largesse .... and use his muscle and "connections."

Some public utility, no?


Opening a door to the Wine Country - $53 million Trancas/29 project unveiled.
 December 12, 2000  By Kevin Courtney ©  Napa Register Staff 

Caltrans released illustrations last week showing the appearance of Highway 29 when it drops by 32 feet into a depression 4,000 feet long for the new interchange at Trancas Street.  These computer-generated images show a broad four-lane highway with median strip that is buffered by landscaped slopes, 14-foot sound walls and a grape motif carved into concrete retaining walls.  The grape vines will be large, covering a 10-foot-high band that lets tourists know they have arrived in wine country.  "We're trying to bring something to celebrate the agricultural essence of this valley. We thought it would be an elegant and an appropriate statement to do justice to this valley," Javier Chavez, Caltrans' chief bridge architect, told the City Council last week. 

Because of time constraints, council members heard the half-hour Caltrans presentation without much comment, but seemed to like what they were seeing.  Councilwoman JoAnn Busenbark said the depressed freeway had a brighter appearance than critics had feared.  "I would just hope everyone notices there's no ditch, no tunnel," said Busenbark, who liked the "nice slope" and landscaping. Caltrans expects to begin work on the $53.5 million interchange next fall, wrapping up construction three years later in the fall of 2004 or spring of 2005.  The project will remove the conflict between local and highway traffic, allowing unimpeded flows on Highway 29 under Trancas-Redwood.

Since Trancas-Redwood traffic won't have to stop for a freeway light, congestion in this prime north Napa shopping area should be improved.  The project is billed as a safety improvement. The Highway 29/Trancas intersection averages 51 accidents annually.  Caltrans believes it can hold costs to $53.5 million and won't have to ask Napa County to pony up more money. The Napa County Transportation Planning Agency, representing cities and the county, is on record as supporting the project as long as local costs don't increase.  This project will require $45 million in state funds that Napa County was free to spend on any project. The interchange consumes money that would otherwise be spent further south on Highway 29 to improve intersections at Highway 221 and Jamieson Canyon Road. 

During the three-year construction, Highway 29 will be dropped below grade and bridges built for Trancas-Redwood, Napa Valley Wine Train tracks and a pedestrian/ bicycle crossing.  Nearly two miles of Highway 29 will be affected by construction starting just north of First Street to Sierra Avenue. There will be 2,500 feet of sound walls north and south of the project, constructed of gray concrete blocks.  Caltrans officials said the sound wall north of Trancas will be on the east side of the highway, running for 1,500 feet. It will be heavily landscaped by shrubs and vines
that will cover 75 percent of it. 

A second sound barrier will be built on the west side of the highway, south of Redwood. It will be nearly 1,000 feet long and covered with vines, but not as extensively landscaped as the northern wall.  To keep the depressed freeway from flooding, water will be pumped the year around into Napa Creek, a mile and a half to the south. Pumping will remove water seeping from the area's high water table and precipitation from storms. 

With memories of Napa's Sept. 3 earthquake still fresh, Caltrans officials said they designed the over crossings to withstand the "maximum credible" shake expected for this area.  The biggest jolt is expected from the West Napa Fault, capable of producing a 6.5 quake. Caltrans increased the bridges' carrying capacities by another 20
percent.  The Sept. 3 quake was measured at 5.2 on the Richter scale, causing an estimated $60 million in property damage.  Caltrans expects to maintain four lanes of traffic in each direction during construction, but there will be slowdowns due to detours.  Caltrans and the city are spending $600,000 on a traffic plan to help motorists survive the many bridge projects coming down the pike, most of them tied to the Napa River flood control project.  Other features of the 29/Trancas interchange include realignment of California Boulevard so it meets up with the main entrance to Bel Aire Plaza on Trancas.  Also, Permanente Way will be extended past the Kaiser Clinic to California Boulevard.