Expressing dismay that they had no alternative, Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday approved a plan to limit preservation of smooth paved surfaces to a select list of 150 miles of county roads.
"What else are we gonna do at this point?" Supervisor Mike Kerns said. "Something's got to happen here or all our roads are going to fall apart."
Paul Kelley, who along with Kerns is leaving the board this year, said that setting priorities for pavement preservation was "a foregone conclusion."
The plan presented by Phil Demery, county transportation and public works director, directs $4.5 million a year in pavement preservation work to 31 heavily traveled roads in unincorporated areas of the county.
Those roads represent 11 percent of the county's 1,384-mile network of roads, which Demery said is an asset worth $2.5 billion.
County roads are in poor shape overall, with a pavement condition index of 43 on a scale of 100. It would cost $55 million a year — more than 10 times the county's budget — to maintain that rating throughout the road system, Demery said.
Under the new plan, 150 miles of roads that carry an average of 4,500 vehicles per day will be maintained in good condition. More than 1,200 miles of county roads will be allowed to fail within 10 years, Demery said, and some of those roads will be converted to gravel surfaces.
Routine maintenance, including filling potholes, clearing brush and repairing storm damage, will continue on all county roads.
Roads in unincorporated Sonoma County were rated worst in the Bay Area this year for the sixth year running, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Federal gasoline taxes of 18 cents a gallon are the primary source of funding for pavement preservation, Demery told the supervisors.
That funding source is falling short of the need throughout California and the nation, he said, noting that in Michigan roads are "reverting to gravel every day."
Supervisors Shirlee Zane, Kerns and Kelley said that a new tax, fee or funding pattern should be considered to pay for pavement preservation. Supervisor Efren Carrillo suggested "taking money from somewhere else" in the county budget.
Chairwoman Valerie Brown predicted that supervisors will be getting calls from property taxpayers who wonder why they don't get good roads for their money.
The county gets 28 cents out of every property tax dollar, she said, and officials noted that about one-half cent goes to transportation and public works.
Measure W on the Nov. 2 ballot in Sonoma County would raise annual vehicle license fees by $10, generating about $5 million a year, with 23 percent — or about $1.2 million — earmarked for road improvements.
Sonoma County and its nine cities would compete for the road funding, which could be spent on paving and pothole repairs, as well as traffic signals, bike lanes, bus turnouts and more, said Steve Urbanek, the county's pavement preservation manager.
The county hasn't considered how it might spend Measure W revenues and did not consider them in developing the priority list.
"It's not something we could count on," Urbanek said.
Measure M, a quarter-cent transportation sales tax approved by county voters in 2004, generates $1.35 million a year for the county and is applied to routine road maintenance, not pavement preservation, Urbanek said.