Sonoma County's tentative approval of an expansion for Mark West Quarry east of Santa Rosa has bicycling advocates and some county supervisors asking whether enough is being done to protect cyclists and others who use the quarry's busy east-west haul route.
Trucks entering and exiting the century-old quarry off Porter Creek Road traverse the hills between Sonoma and Napa counties on narrow and busy roads that also double as an approved bicycle and pedestrian corridor.
The expansion could add 37 to 59 truck trips a day on those curving byways — an increase the county described as "substantial," affecting Mark West Springs, Porter Creek and Petrified Forest roads — according to an environmental impact report.
But widening the roads' shoulders, the county's single best way to alleviate what it said could be an increased risk of collisions between quarry traffic and cyclists or those on foot, is not being required because the county has no plans or funding set aside to pick up its share of the costs, which could be more than $26 million for 5.5 miles of road.
The big price tag is a factor of the rugged landscape, with steep hillsides and creekbed hugging the roadway.
The quarry operator, BoDean Co. of Santa Rosa, balked at its $8.6 million share of the widening project, saying it would make the quarry expansion unfeasible.
The result is that, aside from BoDean's $255,000 contribution to a future traffic signal at the intersection of Mark West Springs and Riebli roads, the county has required no other major traffic modifications as part the company's 20-year permit to expand into an adjacent property.
That has some bicycling advocates seeing red.
The county doesn't "have any right to put the public at risk for the profitability of one particular business," said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.
As is, Helfrich said, the area's narrow roads are a hazard, failing to meet county standards for pavement width, sight distance and other safety measures.
"If you're going to run more trucks on them, at least make them safe for somebody," Helfrich said. "What's the public benefit of giving them a pass? That's what I don't understand."
BoDean general manager Bill Williams said the company is not getting a sweetheart deal. Over the next 20 years, it is set to pay a total of $2.1 million toward upkeep of roads on its hauling route through a 10.5-cent per ton fee the county charges to rock haulers.
"Part of safety is condition of the road," Williams said.
Haulers who do business with the quarry also are subject to a "good neighbor" trucking program that monitors any complaints against drivers and penalizes or suspends those who've had offenses, Williams said.
Aside from a recent collision involving a passenger vehicle that crossed over the dividing line into a rock truck, Williams said he could not recall other serious collisions involving quarry traffic.
A county staff report said vehicle collisions along Mark West Springs and Porter Creek roads declined in the years before the permit application, from 32 collisions in 2001 to 23 in 2008.
BoDean first sought its expansion permit in 2003 before proposing the current project in 2009. It would move onto a 33-acre site immediately to the west, allowing the quarry to follow the harder rock it has been excavating since 1910. BoDean has operated the quarry since 1989.