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North Bay Business Journal

Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 3:35 pm

Sonoma County approves $8.6 million for ailing roads

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    A pothole on Joy Road near Occidental

    A pothole on Joy Road near Occidental. (file photo credit: Kent Porter, The Press Democrat)

    SANTA ROSA — The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors today allocated $8.6 million in one-time funding to help repair and maintain some of the county’s ailing rural roads, outlining nearly 40 miles of high-priority routes subject to improvements during the summer of 2014.

    Centered on a series of routes considered vital for tourism, agriculture and recreation, it is the third year in a row that the board has approved a significant discretionary boost to its regular road maintenance budget.

    While 197 miles of primary roads in unincorporated Sonoma County rate as “good” on average under the definitions of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the degradation of many rural roads has contributed to overall “poor” ranking for the 1,370-mile unincorporated network as a whole, according to information from the county and the MTC.

    Those roads under board supervision represent more than half of total roadways across all of Sonoma County, with many routes considered major connectors for regional wineries, parks and entertainment venues. Deteriorating conditions could impact the mobility of visitors and transportation of agricultural goods, along with risking the cost of full-blown reconstruction, according to the board.

    Today’s vote comes amid a scenario that has played out throughout California’s large rural counties in recent years, where declining revenue from a state gasoline tax and local funding sources have forced many local governments to delay ongoing road repair and maintenance.

    A special Sonoma County committee formed in 2012 to study the issue estimated a funding shortfall of over $900 million, with 53 percent of roads in the county’s unincorporated areas requiring reconstruction by 2022.

    Today’s approval marks a total of $25.8 million in discretionary general fund dollars added for road improvements since October of 2012. Planned for improvements in the summer of 2014 are a total of 14 roads, with 30.3 miles considered “vital for tourism and agriculture” and 8.65 miles within the unincorporated county’s primary road network.

    Among those roads slated for the most extensive improvements in the 2014 “Pavement Preservation Program” include “Wine Country” access routes like West Dry Creek and Westside roads, which together account for an estimated $3.39 million and over 14 miles of repairs. Others include Petaluma Hill Road — a popular route for accessing Sonoma State University and the Green Music Center — and Stony Point Road between Petaluma and Highway 116.

    While primary roads are eligible for federal funding, 65 percent of roads under the county’s jurisdiction lack any dedicated funding mechanism, according to county staff.

    “The truth is, we’ve been fairly effective in dealing with the federal funding and those priority roads. The question is: what are we going to do with those local roads?” said Veronica Ferguson, county administrator.

    Supervisors, county staff and public speakers together acknowledged that the upcoming work represented a small fraction of the county’s overall need. Identifying a long-term solution to the county’s road problem remains a large priority, with suggestions from another road-focused committee expected for public review in 60 days.

    “The bottom line is — none of us are satisfied with the conditions of our roads, and we know there is a lot more work in front of us,” said Mike McGuire, a member of the long-term road funding committee. “To think in, at least the near term, that the state and the feds are going to come in and help us, it’s wishful thinking.”

    That ongoing funding mechanism has been among the areas of interest for Save our Sonoma Roads, a road quality advocacy organization formed in 2011 cited as helping to advance the road quality issue.

    “We basically have a triage system, and those roads that aren’t being services by the hospital so to speak are dying,” said Craig Harrison, a co-founder of SOSroads.

    Sonoma County is not alone among North Bay counties reeling from years of differed road maintenance, with Napa and Marin counties ranking as “at risk” on average, according to the MTC.

    Many individual cities face similar pressures in maintaining roads under their own jurisdiction, with Petaluma, Larkspur and St. Helena also averaging “poor” on the MTC’s rankings.

    The MTC releases its road quality survey every year, providing a Pavement Condition Index or “PCI” from a low end of “zero” to a high-end of “100.” The nine-county Bay Area had an average rating of “fair,” or 66, in the most recent report showing data from 2012.

    Sonoma County as a whole had a PCI of 44, with Marin County receiving a rating of 55 and Napa County a rating of 59.

    A voter-approved, half-cent sales tax to fund road repair, “Measure T,” will go into effect in Napa County in 2018. The tax will replace a former flood control tax, and is expected to raise a total of $282 million in 2011 dollars spread across the county and municipalities.

    Revenue from Sonoma County’s quarter-cent  “Measure M” has been used for some road repair, but only constitutes a fraction of total funding.

    The Sonoma County vote also allocated $1.2 million in one-time payments for road striping, a paving machine and road safety improvements outside of surface repair.

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