Plan calls for more traffic signals, roundabouts in Winters

Three of the traffic lights and one of the roundabouts are part of a proposed $8 million increase in development impact fees.
FILE: Motorists navigate around a construction zone where a roundabout was scheduled to be installed along Grant Avenue in September 2017. Photo by Debra DeAngelo

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released the findings of its study during the Oct. 30 city planning commission meeting. The study calls for additional traffic signals and roundabouts at more than a half-dozen locations spread throughout the city in order to ease future congestion and improve the overall flow of traffic along busy roadway arteries. The proposal calls for traffic signals to be installed in six intersections along Grant Avenue and Moody Slough Road, including a traffic signal at the southbound freeway ramps. The plan also suggests three roundabouts along Grant Avenue at Dutton Street, Walnut Lane and Morgan Street. Greg Behrens, an associate with Fehr & Peers, said the plan assumed for a maximum amount of traffic growth by the year 2036. The proposal takes into considerations population growth spurred by new economic and residential developments in the city over the next two decades, Behrens said. In the future, Behrens forecasted as many as 26,000 cars coming into Winters from the freeway in the future. Most of those would disperse as traffic continued along Railroad Avenue, but some portions of the city could see significant congestion because of the increase in motorists. One problematic section is Grant Avenue, which Behrens and other city officials anticipated could see worsening traffic over time. Traffic lights and roundabouts installed along Grant would ease some of that congestion. “Roundabouts actually expand overall capacity on the street, so the next one out would be at Morgan Street,” City Manager John Donlevy said at the meeting. “As we kind of wrestle with overall capacity and congestion, the roundabouts actually really relieve [traffic jams] by being there.” Donlevy added that Caltrans, the state’s transportation agency, considers roundabouts as the first option for easing congestion on roads. Behrens agreed, but warned that the location of roundabouts was key to improving congestion and that they were not a catch-all solution to easing traffic jams. “One of the great things about roundabouts is they do move traffic very effectively,” Behrens said. “That’s also one of the downsides of them…they can exacerbate traffic [in other locations]. Roundabouts work well when there’s a balanced approach.” Planning commissioner Dave Adams said one of the problems with roundabouts in Winters is the lack of education on how to use them. During a recent trip to the United Kingdom, where roundabouts in urban areas are as common as double-decker buses, Adams said he noticed that roundabouts improved traffic flow and cut down on travel time. “I’ve noticed a lot of people don’t know how to use a roundabout, they stop and wait for everyone to come out,” Adams said of drivers in Winters. “In the UK…you go through stuff real quick.” Behrens downplayed the concern about local drivers, saying motorists would eventually get the hang of roundabouts. “It takes a bit of a transition period to get it down,” Behrens said. Commissioner Patrick Riley expressed a different concern: Traffic already backs up significantly in front of the local high school. With models forecasting a worsening of congestion, Riley wondered about the impact that could have on motorists shuttling their students to and from school. “That traffic is already backed up…where are they going to be backed up now?” Riley asked. Behrens said the study didn’t take into consideration congestion in front of the school specifically, but that some of those concerns could be addressed by having a conversation with school officials about the best locations to pick up and drop off students as well as through “additional traffic controls.” Behrens said adjusting the timing of green and red lights on traffic signals can “really make a difference in terms of flow of traffic.” Behrens also said other roads near the school might be utilized by some drivers, which could help offload some of the demand. The study will help city official re-calculate the cost of a future development impact fee, which would help offset the cost of development for things like road widening projects, traffic signal installation and the construction of the roundabouts. Typically, when impact fees are calculated for roadway projects, a significant amount of the cost is imposed on commercial developers. But a state law allows for city officials to shift a portion of the roadway fee from commercial development to residential development if officials can prove that more businesses are needed because of an increase in new homes. The study found 58 percent of jobs in Winters are “locally serving,” or jobs that serve the needs of local residents. Because of this, the study says 58 percent of the roadway fee could shift to residential developers instead of being imposed on commercial developers. Although the overall plan calls for the installation of six new traffic signals and four roundabouts in Winters, the roadway impact fee would only apply to two traffic signals and one roundabout, all along Grant Avenue. The rest of the projects are either already funded or would need to be funded through “individual land development projects” that are financed by other developers. The roadway impact fee would also be used to widen a portion of Grant Avenue from the southbound Interstate 505 ramps to Main Street, bringing the total number of traffic lanes from two to four, the study says. City officials project the overall cost of the two signals, one roundabout and lane widening project would cost around $8.1 million, all funded through an impact fee that could increase over time if the cost of the projects go up. Of that $8.1 million, residential developers would be on the hook for a little over $6.3 million. By comparison, commercial developers would be responsible for $1.8 million in impact fees; a 212-room hotel would be liable for just over $100,000 in developer fees (it wasn’t clear if the hotel listed in the study reviewed by the Express was the downtown Berryessa Hotel, a hotel slated for completion near the freeway, or both). The study and proposed impact fee increase was considered and approved by the Winters city council on Tuesday.

This story has been updated from a version that appeared in print to provide additional information about the city council’s deliberation on the circulation report, which occurred as the newspaper was being sent to press on Tuesday.]]>

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