FAIRFIELD — The end of the Highway 12 widening project through Jameson Canyon is in sight – at least with some imagination.
Motorists can see the outlines of a future Highway 12 that will have two lanes running in each direction and a median barrier. They can see how a slightly modified route will cut by new retaining walls. They can see more and more pavement being laid, seemingly every day.
One of the biggest local highway projects over the past few decades is 70 percent finished, according to the state Department of Transportation.
Highway 12 links Interstate 80 in Solano County with Highway 29 in Napa County. The Napa County portion of the project could be finished by year’s end and the remainder in Solano County by next summer, Caltrans officials said.
For now, motorists continue driving through what amounts to a six-mile-long construction zone. If the narrow, two-lane Highway 12 of old was bad, the two-lane Highway 12 of the present is worse, some commuters have found.
It’s the short-term pain proceeding what is billed as the long-term gain – a four-lane Highway 12 that can handle 21st century traffic levels.
Meredith McKown has found a way to deal with the construction zone as she commutes between Fairfield and Napa to work. She avoids it on most days and takes the winding, rural back roads through Suisun Valley and Wooden Valley and over Mount George into Napa.
But she did take Highway 12 on a recent day and saw the latest progress.
“I think the work looks beautiful,” she said. “I think it’s going to be fantastic when it’s done. I’m waiting for it to be done.”
Geoffrey Wilcox said it used to take him eight or 10 minutes to drive from Green Valley to his job in the Napa Airport area, before the road work started. In recent weeks, it has taken 35 minutes to 40 minutes on some mornings.
Highway 12 has become somewhat of a patchwork of old and new sections. Concrete safety barriers guide traffic between shift points, creating a maze-like effect in some places. Two of the shift points have curves and Wilcox said this slows down traffic.
On a few mornings at 6:30 a.m., lights that allowed crews to work in the dark faced oncoming motorists and slowed traffic, he said. Traffic is routinely heavy in the morning on the Highway 12 truck climbing lane, backing up onto Interstate 80 in the far right lane past the Green Valley interchange, he said.
“I can’t really say I see the light at the end of the tunnel yet,” he said.
Most of the Highway 12 traffic slowdowns are in the heavy commute direction, which is Fairfield-to-Napa in the morning and Napa-to-Fairfield in the evening. The countercommute direction has far less traffic and far less delays. A 6:30 a.m. commute this direction goes by as quickly as it ever did, though afternoons can bring some delays.
One of the biggest and most impressive parts of the project is at a curve along a hill in Solano County near the truck-climbing lane. Much of that massive hill is gone now, carved away over the past year as trucks hauled away dirt and rocks day after day. That’s made room for another two lanes of traffic. Caltrans officials estimate that 90 percent of the excavation work is completed.
What’s left of the hill is being buttressed by three tiers of retaining walls in various stages of construction. Crews are building the new, two westbound Highway 12 lanes on the tier above the present roadway.
Traffic could shift to the new lanes being built on that upper tier in early December. Both eastbound and westbound traffic would use these two new lanes that are ultimately planned for westbound traffic only. Then crews can work on the new eastbound lanes below, Caltrans officials said in written answers to questions.
In the Napa County section, leveling pavement, putting rubber sealant on pavement, painting road stripes, installing concrete barriers and installing erosion control is among the remaining, major work, Caltrans officials said.
With the rainy season approaching, work crews have been getting the construction site ready for the winter. They’ve been taking steps to control erosion.
No construction will take place during rainy days, according to Caltrans. But, if a week of good weather is forecast, crews could continue work on the retaining wall along the big hill.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.