Group forms to tackle roads
A local citizens group, Save Our Sonoma Roads, has been formed with the goal of keeping pressure on government officials to address the preservation and maintenance of county roads.
The overall condition of the 1,382-mile county road system has long been considered subpar compared with other California counties and, according to county transportation officials, has suffered from years of financial neglect.
“We know we have to do something to preserve county roads,” said Phil Demery, director of the county’s Transportation and Public Works Department at an Oct. 25 Board of Supervisors meeting. “If we don’t, then by default 90 percent of the county road network will be in a failed condition in less than a decade.”
In fact, said Demery, the 1,163 miles of roads that have not been designated as high priority for “pavement preservation” and only qualify for such measures as pothole filling, are in danger of literally falling apart.
“At some point in time,” said Demery, “these roads will deteriorate to the point that it would be actually safer to probably pulverize – they will disintegrate on their own, absent intervention, and once they have failed, they will essentially turn to cobble.”
SOS Roads, led in part by Craig Harrison, president of the Bennett Valley Community Association, considers this scenario unacceptable.
“At a certain point,” SOS Roads states on its website, “roads cannot be patched effectively and they must be rebuilt. Pavement preservation programs can extend the life of a road by years, saving millions compared to costly road construction.”
Included among those not considered priority roads are Adobe Canyon Road, Trinity Road, Cavedale Road, Warm Springs Road from the Bennett Valley Road intersection to Sonoma Highway, Sonoma Mountain Road, Enterprise Road, Pressley Road, and Bennett Ridge.
SOS Roads plans on hosting a roads summit in the spring of 2012 to bring together the community, transportation officials, and elected officials to discuss ongoing road issues.
At the Oct. 25 Board of Supervisors meeting, Demery explained that there are two kinds of road maintenance programs – corrective road maintenance for safety, and pavement preservation activities. Corrective maintenance consists of such things as pothole repairs, drainage repairs, and vegetation management.
According to Demery, 97,000 potholes were filled last fiscal year, which he says is 10 times the number that should be filled for comparable municipalities.
“We’ve been (filling potholes) for so long now,” said Supervisor Valerie Brown, “that the potholes are getting harder to fill and the surfaces people are riding on are untenable for their cars.”
Over the last five fiscal years, the county has spent an average of $13.8 million on corrective maintenance.
Pavement preservation is more long-term in the sense that, according to county reports, it “protects and sustains the asset value of a road network.” These activities include slurry seals, chip seals and overlay. Average annual funding for pavement preservation has been around $4.5 million.
Paying for these road maintenance activities has become more and more problematic, as costs over time have far surpassed the monies made available by traditional state and federal sources.
Last year, the Board of Supervisors first established the priority road network for long-term pavement preservation at 150 miles, segments identified as arterials and major collectors, and having high traffic volumes and regional significance. In August, 5.7 miles were added, and another 63 miles were added at the October meeting, for a total of 219 miles.
Now, thanks in large part to lobbying by Bennett Valley residents, all of Bennett Valley Road from the Santa Rosa city limits to Warm Springs Road is now on the priority list and eligible for long-term maintenance.
The 219 priority miles approved by the supervisors require an almost doubling of the historic amount spent on pavement preservation, from $4.5 million to $9 million.
At their Oct. 25 meeting, supervisors wrestled with a number of options to help pay for the increase.
Among cost cutting topics were the reduction of vegetation management services by the county and shifting more of the clean-up responsibility to property owners. The board asked transportation department staff to come up with different scenarios and come back at a later date.
Supervisors also asked staff to come back with more information on reducing services on low volume roads, and possibly somehow shifting ownership of some of the 109 miles of dead end roads to homeowners.
Different revenue enhancements approved by the board included using local garbage companies’ franchise fees for road maintenance, and increasing the hotel bed tax. Together, these moves would generate $4.7 million.
The supervisors also approved sending a letter to regional transportation authorities opposing pavement preservation funding proposals that would reduce Sonoma County’s share.
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