Thursday, September 11, 2008

Widened Wilson Avenue debuts

Widened Wilson Avenue debuts
Tuesday's ceremony marks end of highly anticipated project
By SARAH ROHRS/Times-Herald staff writer
Article Launched: 09/10/2008

Mayor Osby Davis cuts the the ribbon along with City Council members, from left, Tom Bartee, Joanne Schivley, Erin Hannigan and Michael Wilson. (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)

The long-awaited Wilson Avenue widening project is finally finished, and about 50 local dignitaries and citizens gathered at River Park on Tuesday morning for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the end.

Mayor Osby Davis said the project shows "what we have here in Vallejo is valuable and shows what we can have in Vallejo if we all keep working together." Continued investment in infrastructure and economic development is vital, he added.

The revamped section of Wilson Avenue running between Hichborn Street and Lighthouse Drive contains two lanes - one in each direction. The street also has a new landscaped median strip running down the middle, plus bicycle lanes and a walking path.

Public works officials said the project cost about $16 million, though final figures are not yet available.

Councilwoman Erin Hannigan and others said the work beautifies an entrance into Vallejo.

"We have a beautiful waterfront and a true gateway to the city," said City Manager Joe Tanner. "Waddya say? It's gorgeous."

Several residents said the work improves the neighborhood and makes people want to come outside to walk their dogs, watch the sunset, or jog along the waterfront's edge.

"It's amazing. It's changed the energy along the street," said Vallejo Heights Neighborhood Association president David Gates. He said the work has inspired some people to spruce up their properties.

Neighbors and others in Vallejo had strong concerns about the possibility of a four-lane thoroughfare running through the neighborhood. Gates said residents are happy with how the project has turned out.

Public Works Director Gary Leach said there are no plans to widen the road to four lanes - the third phase of the project.

The project also involved realigning Wilson Avenue, buying and demolishing several houses, upgrading sewer and water lines, putting utility lines underground and installing several features to slow down drivers, said city senior civil engineer Allan Panganiban.

The widening contract was awarded to North Bay Construction at $8.8 million, Panganiban said. Design work, buying properties and infrastructure improvements added to the costs. In 2006, the council approved a $3 million increase to cover costs.

Money for the project derived from a combination of state and federal grants, traffic impact fees, the Vallejo Sanitation and Flood Control District, and bonds to be repaid through general fund proceeds, Leach said.

The Wilson Avenue stretch between Hichborn and Highway 37 has been targeted for decades.

Leach said more than 40 years ago, the street was controlled by the state which had plans for a two-story freeway along Curtola Parkway and the waterfront. City Hall and other nearby buildings were built to face away from the waterfront because there was to be a freeway along it.

"Now we're trying to turn everything around," Leach said.

In the 1980s, the state relinquished Wilson Avenue to the city which later launched environmental documents, and neighborhood meetings for a widening project.

Leach said consultants worked with neighbors on the final designs, and special attention went into assuring the new roadway would blend into the neighborhood.

The work has hit rocky times over the years.

In the early 1990s, city plans for the street faced heavy opposition from many residents. Then, several years ago, the city used its legal powers to force some Wilson Avenue property owners to sell their buildings to make way for the work.

• E-mail Sarah Rohrs at or call 553-6832.