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Road to Nowhere

Columnist: Christina Julian
November, 2016 Issue

Christina Julian
All articles by columnist

The only way I can imagine any person or business agreeing to such an overextended project was a failure to read the fine print.

Traffic. While not the sole reason I scrapped city living for country, it weighed heavily. During my days in Los Angeles, I was known to bust out my laptop to pass the time whenever my VW Beetle found itself stuck in the idle position on the 405 waiting for the gridlock to unwind—long before texting while driving was a no-no. When I moved to Napa Valley in 2010, I vowed to cut out the hanky panky and for the longest time, I remained true to my own words. Gridlock was swapped for scenic laps up and down Wine Country roadways, cementing my love affair with the area. Unfortunately this blissful state of transport, like many of the romances of my youth, was short-lived. Just two years later, the Highway 29 Channelization Project (H29CP) road-killed the fantasy.

It began with noble causes—to alleviate the bottleneck in St. Helena, widen shoulders, add a two-way left turn lane and improve the bike highway rail crossing at Whitehall Lane. Four years into this sordid scene, all I can say is woe unto those unsuspecting tourists who signed up for a scenic St. Helena drive-by only to be greeted by an utterly hosed up roadway. I’m not a patient person (as my father is apt to point out) but when it comes to H29CP, I can’t help but wonder, “Are we done yet?” I’ve had more than enough time to ponder this premise, stuck in traffic virtually every time I journey into what’s become an unsightly St. Helena.

The only way I can imagine any person or business agreeing to such an overextended project was a failure to read the fine print. I turn to the Access St. Helena Facebook page for a distillation of the mess and quickly see how the illusion of progress may have been propagated. The first chapter of this saga was billed as “basic trenching for undergrounding PG&E utility lines” back in 2012 and meant to last nine months, which apparently it did, but this little-engine-that-could of a construction project just keeps going and going.

Next came more undergrounding, this time for AT&T and Comcast. Then in 2015, smack dab in the middle of a seasonal upswing, things kicked into high gear when the “highway construction” phase began with completion slated for this September. As my idle time continues to crawl upwards of 20 minutes, it’s hard to visualize this end date, and I have to wonder if, when it’s done, will H29CP have really done anything to mitigate the valley congestion problems that continue to mount. All those business owners that are still in favor of this project, please say aye.

The show must go on

As they say in LA—regardless of the size of the scandal or traffic scene—the show must go on! Enter year six of the Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF), which manages to forge ahead in spite of (or, perhaps, because of) our burgeoning scene. Not even traffic or the slump of the season will stop film fiends near and far from descending upon our valley for what’s been dubbed the ultimate food, wine and film experience (November 9 to 13). Last year’s event drew 45,000 attendees, generated $2.5 million in revenue and had a $4.5 million economic impact. This month, those numbers are expected to jump to 48,000, $2.7 million and 5 million respectively and will sport 120 films, 150 wineries and 50 chefs.

This year, the fest has added an enhanced night of sneak peek screenings on Tuesday November 8—billed as a way to combat election day blues, and also give locals a leg-up on access to screenings ($5 rush tickets) prior to the official opening night on Wednesday. Later in the week, festival goers will get a glimpse of the Gilmore Girls, reboot A Year in the Life, prior to its wide release on Netflix on November 25. Series creators/writers/directors Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino are expected to attend.

When asked how the fest continues to draw top talent like last year’s tribute honoree John Travolta and this year’s attendees, which include Viggo Mortensen, Aaron Eckhart Kurt Russell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Jessica Biel, festival co-founder Brenda Lhormer replies, “We’re known for our hospitality. They trust that their experience [here] is going to be great.” While the traffic may not be nearly as stellar, at least our wine and food will outshine and shadow the congestion, for now at least.


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