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GUEST OPINION: A high price for crumbling roads

  • Cars drive down the center of Lichau Road to avoid potholes along the sides. (BETH SCHLANKER / The Press Democrat, 2010)

Anyone with a passing familiarity with rural Sonoma County knows that the deterioration of our roads is reaching crisis levels. The sorry state of our crumbling county road system is directly correlated to insufficient funding for road maintenance and preservation.

The Board of Supervisors has neglected county roads for decades, during economic booms such as the dot-com era and during downturns such as the current recession. The county has designated 219 miles of high priority roads (e.g., Adobe Road, Bodega Highway, Guerneville Road and East Dry Creek Road) that will be properly maintained. The supervisors have no plans to rebuild, repave or do anything but fill potholes on 1,163 miles (84 percent) of our county roads. Consult the map (http://sosroads.org/) and you will readily find orphan roads that are important to you.

Without a pavement preservation program, the orphaned roads will deteriorate to a point where they can only be ground up into gravel or completely rebuilt. At a cost of about $1 million per mile, this would cost more than $1.1 billion, which is almost same amount as the annual budget covering all county government expenditures.

Unless budget priorities are changed, you can expect most roads to continue to worsen at an increasingly rapid rate. For the current fiscal year, the Board of Supervisors budgeted $22.6 million for road maintenance. Of this, $4.2 million comes from the general fund and $18.4 million comes from federal and state funds.

Federal road funds are restricted by law to be used on the 356 miles of higher-volume arterial and collector roads. Thus even if federal funding increased dramatically the situation would barely improve.

State funding primarily comes from the sales tax on fuel and an excise tax (18 cents per gallon) that has not increased since 1992. Only 3 cents of the excise tax is sent directly to counties, and it's allocated using a formula that disadvantages Sonoma County.

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