Winter storms take a toll on North Bay roadways

North Bay counties are still finding out from residents and businesses the extent of wind and rain damage from the series of storms that slammed into California from late December through mid-January, but the repairs needed just to the region’s public infrastructure is expected to be over $30 million.

The bulk of the damage to roads, bridges, culverts, storm drains and utilities in the six-county region happened in Sonoma County, with over $15 million in repairs calculated so far, according to The Press Democrat.

“The damage to infrastructure, to our roadways is significant — today we’re getting hammered,” Johannes Hoevertsz, Sonoma County’s director of public infrastructure, told the publication.

Napa County figures that its road-repair bill from these storms is $8.5 million so far on seven projects, mostly to install retaining walls, said spokesperson Linda Ong.

Four sections of Mount Veeder and Dry Creek roads have been reduced to one lane because of washouts, Lawley/Old Toll Road is closed at milepost 2.5 because of a landslide, and lanes are narrowed on Steele Canyon and Redwood roads.

“Up to now, 99% of the work has been done in-house,” Ong said. “As we move to the larger construction jobs, most of that will be contracted out. Hazard mitigation projects will be evaluated at some time in the future.”

Damage to roadways in Marin County likely will run into the millions of dollars, officials told the Marin Independent Journal.

“The rain, while certainly having intense patches, was not as extreme as was originally anticipated, but when it was coupled with the high winds, the incidents spiked,” county spokesperson Marimar Ochoa told the Business Journal.

During the storms, county public works crews responded to over 1,000 emergency calls and incidents, clearing debris from more than 100 culverts, managing 30-plus road closures and monitoring floodwater-pumping stations.

One such closure was Fairfax-Bolinas Road, preemptively closed Jan. 4 from Meadow Club near the town of Fairfax west to Highway 1 in West Marin and kept closed until Jan. 25, when landslide debris could was removed.

Longer-term repair projects are along 170-190 Redwood Drive in Woodacre and the eastbound lane of Bolinas Road at milepost 1.34, about a quarter mile from Sky Oaks Road in West Marin.

The Bolinas Road damage happened Jan. 9 when about 100 cubic yards of the hillside above slid down, according to the Department of Public Works. It’s expected to take six months to complete.

The county is seeking reimbursement from FEMA for road repairs.

The county is surveying local businesses and residents about storm damage and so far knows of 15 residences that sustained minor to major damage, Ochoa said.

Mike Ghilotti, president of San Rafael-based general engineering contractor Ghilotti Bros., said he’s surprised by relative lack of demand for contractors to come in for emergency projects, given the volume of rain received in such a short period of time.

Two emergency projects the company worked on was Marin County’s Fairfax-Bolinas Road debris removal and in Sonoma County fixing a sinkhole and bridge abutment on Highway 12.

Ghilotti expects the phone will start ringing when more damage to roadways from the winter storms to become visible months from now.

“This is commonly overlooked until summer, but the sheer volume of water that entered into the cracks, crevices and open potholes have absolutely blown up the roads, streets and freeways around the Bay Area,” Ghilotti said. “It will take a Herculean effort to repair the road damage that resulted from the storms this year.”

Dale Mahoney, Santa Rosa area manager for general engineering contractor Ghilotti Construction, said winter storms were spaced further apart in previous seasons. But he said this year doesn’t seem to compare to level of repair work needed in 2019, when heavy rains came over several months.

“When rain comes down for extended periods but faster than it did this time, hillsides come down faster,” Mahoney said. “A few years ago, we had quite a few emergency repairs of hillsides, mostly in Mendocino County and a few in Cloverdale.”

And in Mendocino County this year, the initial damage assessment to public infrastructure is about $2 million, according to Howard Dashiell, director of transportation.

“Mendocino County is not going to have the windfall that a Santa Cruz County will,” Dashiell said.

Estimates for damage on the Central California Coast, part of the federal disaster declaration, are into the tens of millions of dollars.

Still, Mendocino County expects to have $1 million–$1.5 million in three projects go out to bid in the next one to two years.

Outside that, the county’s road crews have been patching roadways and cleaning up after Pacific Gas & Electric’s storm repair base southwest of the county airport, Dashiell said. That was where the utility’s crews fanned out to restore power for large section of the Mendocino Coast that were without power for days amid the storms.

Across PG&E’s service area in Northern and Central California, the San Francisco-based utility had over 7,200 staff and contract personnel responding, including mutual aid from utilities in Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Washington and Wisconsin, according to spokesperson Megan McFarland.

Over 2.8 million customers lost power starting at the first storms just before New Year’s weekend. Around 80% got the lights back on in 12 hours and over 90% within 24 hours, McFarland said.

Here’s PG&E’s damage tally as of Jan. 17: 4,430 conductors, 1,818 poles, 787 pole cross arms, 806 transformers and 1,471 other pieces of equipment. The crews removed 4,815 trees at nearly 3,000 locations.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before coming to the Business Journal in 1999, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. Reach him at or 707-521-4256.

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