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Friday, February 27, 2009

FORESTVILLE: A Roundabout at Mirabel Rd and Hwy 116

Forestville's Roundabout Dreams Come True
By Vesta Copestakes

Forestville citizens have been dreaming about, designing and lobbying for a roundabout at the intersection of Hwy 116 and Mirabel Road for at least a decade - if not longer. In the February 2002 issue of the Forestville Gazette, Robert Tanner, local advocate for ecologically responsible transportation solutions, illustrated his design and explained why a roundabout would be a vastly superior alternative to a four way traffic signal at this busy downtown intersection. Alan Tilton, Sonoma County traffic engineer and owner of Case Ranch Inn in Forestville, designed several versions of a roundabout and presented them to committees, supervisors, Caltrans planners and Sonoma County Transporation department planners. But until the head honchos at Caltrans and SoCo Roads retired, there was little hope that this alternative to a traffic light in town would ever have a chance of becoming reality.

“Time is on our side...yes it is!”
“Good things come to those who wait.”

Unincorporated towns have a hard time pushing their own agendas in county government. It's the main reason why the Forestville Planning Association was established years ago. Developments that threatened the serenity of our home town were coming our way, and we needed to at least have a say on what came to town. Town meetings were established to create opportunities for information and discussion. The rumble of gravel trucks through town from the two gravel quarries has always been a concern and the proposed bypass around downtown keeps getting farther and farther away as every year it becomes more expensive.

People are attracted to the Small Town spirit of this West Sonoma County community. The thought of a four-way traffic signal in the middle of town has brought many people in from the forest to protest potential air pollution from idling engines as well as braking and accelerating trucks at a traffic signal. We've been proud of being a town with no traffic light.

But the intersection of Highway 116 and Mirabel Road has become a problem as the community grows. Early mornings before school starts has traffic backed up as cars wait at the end of Mirabel Road for Hwy 116 cross-traffic to open up. The hill heading into Pocket Canyon blocks the view of on-coming traffic. There has to be a solution.

When the Crinella/Thiessen project was presented, it was designed around space for the proposed Hwy 116 bypass that comes off Mirabel Road, wraps around the north end of town and comes out past Forestville School at the east end of town. Caltrans had plans of taking the west end hill down to provide a safe line-of-site coming into the intersection from the west. But a traditional four-way stop takes up too much land, and power and maitenance costs are prohibitive. As time passed and the Thiessen Forestville Town Square project went into design review, the County asked Orrin Thiessen to redesign how his development fit with a roundabout instead of a four-way intersection. It was the first ray of hope that the county would be receptive to the roundabout solution.

Notice of a public hearing on Febraury 26th came as a surprise to many. The lone illustration of a roundabout brought joy to every Forestville roundabout advocate's heart. At last, county traffic planners and Caltrans have seen the light for our community, and there's hope for our roundabout dreams.

The Forestville School auditorium was packed to capacity with residents and business people anticipating what road planners had to say. Many were surprised at the enthusiasm Caltrans planners have for roundabouts, pointing out how much safer they are then four-way signalized intersections, etc. Roundabout advocates also brought up the superior safety for pediestrians
who have less distance to travel across a roundabout intersection. Air Pollution concerns were met with praise for slowly moving traffic and no idling engines. With the exception of landowner Ramona Crinella whose land is impacted by this design, people were in general agreement that a roundabout is a vastly superior alternative to a four-way traffic signal at this vital downtown intersection. Many of Ramona's objections can be met with a slight change in the design presented and is already a considered alternative.

Caltrans and SoCo Transportation employees presented drawings, statistics and even an animated computer illustration of how gravel trucks will come through the roundabout - a consistent concern for many. In the end, the community embraced the concept and it looks like our roundabout dreams will come true starting in about two years. For everyone in the community who treasures having no traffic light in Forestville, it looks like we get to keep our downtown traffic-light-free - at least for now.

Below is a report from Forestville Planning Association president Richard Naegle, written prior to the public hearing. It covers timing and funding for both the intersection and the proposed Forestville bypass:

FPA REPORTS The Forestville Planning Association
By Richard Naegle

Many of us have been wondering if there has been any progress on plans for the intersection improvements at Mirabel/Hwy116 as well as for the proposed Bypass around the downtown. In December I questioned Tom O’Kane, Deputy Director of Sonoma County Transportation and Public Works, about these issues. His responses are below.

Hwy 116/Mirabel intersection improvements
“-- according to the 2007 Measure M Strategic Plan, this project is considered Phase I of the Forestville Bypass project – surprisingly enough, the intersection improvement plan is moving along through Caltrans - County staff has met on several occasions this summer & fall w/state personnel to coordinate on a final concept – as you probably know, the state originally had indicated that this would be a signalized intersection, incorporating a number of geometric changes – however, they are favorably considering an alternative design for a round-about – as w/any project that involves Caltrans, there are still an number of hurdles to overcome before this intersection project becomes a reality & we begin the detailed design – I am hopeful that we will receive the go ahead from the state in mid-2009 to proceed to design – once we have this approval from Caltrans, we will be in a better position to give a time frame for construction to begin.”
Forestville Bypass
“– this is a Measure “M” project – the total cost is estimated to be approximately $13.7 million, including the Hwy 116/Mirabel intersection improvements – Measure “M” is shown to contribute $2 million – the project statement indicates that the balance will come from other sources – traffic mitigation funds will supplement the funding, but development donations are also anticipated - the staff has discussed w/ Caltrans the potential for the state to assume the operations & maintenance of the bypass once it is completed – there are some significant right-of-way requirements that will be imposed if this is the approach that is ultimately taken – the County’s capital budget indicates that the construction phase of the project is still several years away.

It is important to note that the turndown in the economy has a significant impact on the revenues for transportation – sales & gas taxes are down substantially – the state has withheld our funds from various sources & while they will ultimately release them to local jurisdictions, it is uncertain when & how this will occur – this uncertainty plus the declining tax revenues has adversely affected our work program schedule – we will continue w/the Hwy 116/Marbel planning w/Caltrans & hopefully, the revenue picture will change for the better at the time we are ready to bid the work…”

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