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Newhall roundabout now open to drivers

City officials cut ribbon on hotly-debated downtown traffic circle

Posted: January 24, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 24, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Drivers loops around the newly finished roundabout in Newhall in front of Hart Park on Thursday. City officials were on hand for a ribbon cutting ceremony before some vintage automobiles made the first trips in the traffic circle. Signal photo by Charlie Kaijo.

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The “aah-oooh-gah” of a 1931 Ford Model A horn sounded over the arrival bells of a Metrolink train Thursday as a small parade of vintage cars made the first circle around the controversial Newhall roundabout, opened following a brief ceremony in front of William S. Hart Park.

Bob Caldwell, president of the Santa Clarita Valley Antique Auto Club, led the group of 1930s-era Fords and a Buick following a ribbon-cutting at the site.

Mayor Laurene Weste noted the opening marked the culmination of the more-than-decade-old Downtown Newhall Specific Plan, whose goal in part was to make downtown Newhall more pedestrian friendly,

“The final piece of the project is the roundabout, which will allow for smoother, safer traffic flow and greater pedestrian connectivity between Main Street and Hart Park,” she said.

The roundabout, which links Newhall Avenue, Main Street and 5th Street in a previously awkward convergence of roadways, drew loud protests when city officials announced its imminent construction, and even more controversy when the city put up money to fund art work for the center of the roundabout.

Public outcry and disagreement over prototypes for the proposed centerpiece sculpture led the city to ditch the art plan in November and go with landscaping. Attractive plants, including roses, adorned the roundabout on Thursday.

City officials regard the intersection as the gateway to downtown Newhall, which has been redeveloped in a bid to make it an arts and entertainment center and a draw to attract visitors to downtown. One of three Metrolink train stations in Santa Clarita is nearby.

Bob Caldwell, president of the Santa Clarita Valley Antique Auto Club and a retired California Highway Patrol captain, was the first to drive the roundabout in his 1931 Model A.

“I rather enjoyed it. It’s very pleasing to the eye,” he said.

Motorists heading down Newhall Avenue toward Highway 14 or back the other way will find the gentle right turn required to enter the roundabout easier than having to stop at the signal formerly there, Caldwell said.

“I thought it would be one of those multi-lane roundabouts, and some of those can be tricky,” he said. “If you’re not really on top of it, you can find yourself going down the wrong lane with those.”

The roundabout’s price tag was $2.2 million, money that came from the city’s Landscape Maintenance District plus $702,000 awarded for the project in a grant.

Construction began in July, and the roundabout was completed a little ahead of schedule. It was due to be open to the public in February.

“We’re thankful for great weather in Southern California” that made the early opening possible, said Project Manager Balvinder Sandhu.

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