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Napa Valley Vine Trail seeks to attract tourists, provide alternate transit

[caption id="attachment_24366" align="aligncenter" width="448"] Cyclists ride along the Napa Valley Vine Trail.[/caption]

NAPA -- A 44-mile mixed-use path for pedestrians and cyclists that would run the length of the Napa Valley and eventually connect to the ferry terminal in Vallejo is under way, and funding efforts are being ramped up as the proposal aimed at luring tourists and providing alternative transportation routes gains traction.

The Napa Valley Vine Trail not long ago received a key endorsement from the region’s influential agricultural groups, and construction has been completed on several parts of the trail, according to Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition Operations Director Shannon Kuleto.

The Vine Trail coalition, representing about 18 agencies involved in the planning, design and funding, anticipates that the path could generate as much as $75 million per year in ongoing economic impact as well as provide jobs for 60 people per mile throughout construction. It would also potentially replace the need for 150,000 automobile trips while enhancing bicycle safety.

According to the Napa Valley Vine Trail  Case Statement, prepared by the Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency and the Vine Trail coalition, Napa Valley “is the second-highest bicycle accident rate per capita of the nine Bay Area counties and a poor environment for non-motorized transportation.” The statement also notes that the county is restricted in building new roads that would alleviate traffic because of its Agricultural Preserve.

The transportation and planning Agency commissioned a $100,000 feasibility study in 2007, and the county Board of Supervisors passed a resolution supporting the trail in May.

Construction of the trail is expected to cost about $44 million over 10 years -- or $1 million per mile, Ms. Kuleto said, adding that the scope of the trail, while challenging, has mostly been met with positive reaction and support in all five Napa County cities as well is in Solano County.

Funding will consist of about an 80 percent mix of public money and 20 percent in private funds raised by the Vine Trail coalition. Sections of the trail that were deemed “shovel-ready” by this September were eligible for federal stimulus monies allocated for transit projects that reduce  carbon emissions or provide alternative transportation methods. 

[caption id="attachment_24367" align="alignleft" width="448"] Napa Valley Vine Trail runs through Yountville.[/caption]

The section in Yountville met those requirements and received $1 million in stimulus funds. It will open at the end of September.  St. Helena’s 4-to-5 mile stretch will be shovel-ready by the end of the year. Construction is also under way in the city of Napa, where portions of the trail will overlap with the already-existing Bay Trail.

Public funding for the remainder of the project will likely come from the federal government’s next round of transportation funding, during which billions of dollars will be allocated nationwide. Napa County is optimistic it will receive the financial support needed, said Eliot Hurwitz, a program manager for the Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency.

“We’re expecting multi-use trails like this will get a much higher percentage than they normally do,” he said.

Environmental reports may need to be conducted for each city, Mr. Hurwitz said, and will be done so as each phase of construction comes.

Ms. Kuleto said it was too early to determine whether the project would require an environmental impact review but noted the trail is already within transit corridors.

“Because of where most of the route will be following, it’s not going to be in pristine areas of construction that would trigger the most stringent EIRs,” she said.

“We’re putting together this string of pearls, and they’re pretty wide ranging,” she added.

Mr. Hurwitz said as much preliminary planning as possible is being done before a determination is made on the federal dollars.

The Vine Trail coalition has met with Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and other government officials to discuss the federal funding and will continue to do so this week. The coalition is also hoping to raise $20 million in private funding from 2010 through 2013 to match whatever public funding it receives.

In May, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Napa Valley Vintners, Winegrowers of Napa County and the Napa County Farm Bureau all threw their support behind the plan after concerns about the county’s agricultural preserve were allayed by those involved with the planning, said Jennifer Putnam, executive director for the Grapegrowers and a founding member of the Vine Trail coalition.

“We would have a place where visitors could enjoy the valley without a vehicle and also for the locals,” Ms. Putnam said. “Its purpose would make it appealing for tourists and functional for residents.”

The sheer size of the project, involving two counties and five different municipalities, was not lost on proponents, and the seeming sense of consensus is reflected in the number of agencies and groups involved from the very start, Ms. Kuleto said.

Whereas other land-use proposals in Napa County have been contentious, the concerns surrounding the 44-mile path have so far been overcome. Outreach work will continue for those who still express lingering land-use issues.

“If you look at the size of the board … to see them all working together is quite inspiring,” Ms. Kuleto said. “There are a lot of watchdogs that are making sure no one camel gets its nose under the tent. It serves no one’s interest to violate the ag preserve.” Ms. Kuleto also said no vines will be taken out of production for construction on the path.

The Vine Trail coalition has offered to put up half of the money for preliminary design work in St. Helena for its design to reach 35 percent completion, and funding for design in Vallejo will be 100 percent provided by the coalition, Mr. Hurwitz said. The trail in Vallejo will connect to the ferry terminal, providing a crucial link to San Francisco.