MULTI-MODAL ROAD A vision of Healdsburg Avenue north of Powell five years hence, with bikes, pedestrians and cars on a redesigned ’complete street.’ (Photo courtesy of City of Healdsburg)

Healdsburg Avenue Gets Redesign Green Light

‘Transformative project’ fueled by $11.8 million transportation grant from MTC

February 9, 2023

Imagine Healdsburg Avenue north of downtown as a smooth mile and a half of three-lane road, with plenty of room for bikes and pedestrians as well as autos, in a meandering swerve between art-friendly landscapes in what urban designers would call a "linear park."

That’s the vision for the "complete street project" that the City of Healdsburg has been working toward for over five years, but it’s a vision that is beginning to look less like a dream and more like a done deal.

The long-evolving goal to remake the north half of Healdsburg Avenue into a modern "multi-modal" route connecting the town to new developments at North Village and Montage is $11.8 million closer to reality, thanks to grant approval from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).

The success of the city’s grant proposal comes after many years of "hard work and strategizing by the city team, and advocating by our city council," said Larry Zimmer, director of public works. "This truly will be a transformative project for the city,"

Zimmer, who also wears the hat of city engineer, emphasized that the $11.8 million grant is just for construction. "Construction cost is very preliminary now, but will be further refined during design. We have another $636,000 in grant funding, along with city funds, to complete the design," he said.

The "Healdsburg Complete Streets Project" was extensively studied in 2019 in a community visioning process. Its resulting executive summary reads, "Healdsburg Ave is a safe and comfortable street for people who walk, bike, take transit and drive. It is well connected to adjoining neighborhoods and Foss Creek multi-use trail. The redesigned street calms traffic while maintaining traffic flow, delivery service and emergency access. New streetscape improvements will support local businesses while creating an iconic people friendly [avenue] that meaningfully integrates[with] the natural environment."

Among the key features would be reducing traffic lanes from five lanes to three (including a middle turning lane), plus the construction of protected bike lanes and pedestrian improvements to renovate the avenue. The bike lanes would be wide enough to serve as traffic evacuation lanes, should an emergency arise.

The Vision

Beyond the core downtown area, Healdsburg Avenue extends from Powell Avenue northward to Passalacqua Road, gateway to the Montage hotel and homes. Major intersections between include Dry Creek/March Avenue with its shopping and Highway 101 access, and Parkland Farms Boulevard access to the housing development there.

The Healdsburg Avenue improvement project has been in the works for years, coming into focus during a robust community engagement campaign conducted in 2019. Three public forums evaluated the overall vision and goals for Healdsburg Avenue through focus group meetings, online and in-person surveys, and community design workshops.

Among the goals the community input program evolved were to help create a "complete street" that is safe, comfortable, well-connected and reliable for walking, biking or public transit, as well as emergency access. Enhancements of the natural environment and encouragement of business and economic development were also favored by a strong voice in the community feedback process.

The project will produce a road diet by reducing the through lanes on Healdsburg Avenue from five lanes to three. Prior to the construction of Highway 101 to the west, Healdsburg Avenue was the main state highway corridor for travel to the north, though it was never a freeway in the current sense.

But that stretch of road no longer sees the traffic that warrants five lanes, and transportation consultants believe that fewer lanes will result in slower traffic, fewer accidents and a more liveable thoroughfare.

"Primarily, it will create an environment that will encourage cycling and walking," said Zimmer. For many residents, "the biggest draw right now is the community center," he added. "The community center gets a very large number of Healdsburg residents, including students, that traverse from their neighborhoods to the community center on a very regular basis.

"One of the things that we received in that community engagement was a lot of comments from people, particularly parents, who were concerned about their kids biking and or walking to the community center from where they lived," he noted.

Zimmer said that the creation of a new 35-acre public park north of Parkland Farms, currently called Saggio Hills, would also be a draw. "It’s going to be a big park, and it’s going to be an active park, with playing fields and other community enhancements," said the public works director. "As opposed to a passive park, which is, you know, just open space."

The Money

At the Feb. 6 city council meeting, where the news of the large grant was shared by City Manager Jeff Kay, Vice Mayor David Hagele pointed out that "it could very easily have gone the other way."

"It wasn’t a slam dunk," said Hagele, the only member of the current city council who then held a seat. "There was concern about the cost of just getting the report, which was I think $470,000 for the original contract with MIG. I think it speaks to the council members who voted to support this project going forward to have a bigger vision."

"The $11.8 million grant will go a long way toward paying for much of the construction, though it cannot be used for design or "environmental clearance," said Zimmer. To help offset the difference, there needs to be a "significant city contribution of roughly $3 million, when you work in a construction contingency and construction management," he continued.

Under questioning, Zimmer said, "If you’re including the design, the environmental construction, everything from here on out, you’re looking at approximately $16 million, give or take."

The first phase of the project should begin this summer, with the "undergrounding" of utilities and upgrading of aged or undersized sewer and water lines. "It’s prudent to have the utilities in good enough shape that you can trust that you won’t have to dig through your fresh pavement in the near future," said Zimmer. Surface improvements should begin in 2026, with completion expected sometime in 2028.

Coupled with recent federal, state and regional grants for bringing SMART rail to Windsor, Healdsburg and beyond, the future of modern multi-modal travel in north Sonoma County is beginning to look a lot like the proverbial Christmas.

Hagele concluded his remarks at the Feb. 6 City Council meeting by saying, "It’s something that I saw where it started, and we’re all going to see where it’s ending. It’s pretty exciting to have that massive improvement to the middle of Healdsburg."




Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Please sign me up for the newsletter