An organized protest by residents along a pothole-marred road on Sonoma Mountain represents more frustration over the conditions of Sonoma County's rural roads, which already rank among the worst in the Bay Area.

About 200 residents who live on Lichau Road east of Rohnert Park signed a petition demanding that the county improve conditions on the three-mile stretch that winds up the mountain and dead-ends at the Fairfield Osborn Preserve.

The road includes a popular and sometimes-deadly dip known as "Gravity Hill." But residents complain that the only stomach-churning thrills they experience on the road are when they are forced to weave around potholes, sometimes into the oncoming lane.

"It's terrible. I think the road should be voted the worst in Sonoma County," said Janae Rosen, who organized the petition drive and has lived on Lichau since 1997.

Supervisor Valerie Brown, whose district includes Lichau (pronounced Lee-how) said that she drove Lichau and that it's clear the road is "very bumpy."

"But I'm not sure it's any different from other country roads we are trying to find funding for," she said.

The protest may be a harbinger as the vast majority of the county's rural roads continue to fall into disrepair and residents become frustrated by the conditions.

Supervisors last year cited budget constraints when they voted to limit upkeep on more than 1,200 miles of county roads beyond routine fixes such as brush clearing, pothole and storm repair.

The controversial decision meant that these roads would essentially be allowed to fail within 10 years, with some converted to gravel surfaces.

The exception is about 155 miles of road that will receive long-term surface maintenance under the county's so-called "priority road network."

The county's selection criteria for those roads included volume of traffic, proximity to cities and whether they are arterial routes and major traffic collectors, in which case they qualify for federal funding assistance.

County officials say Lichau Road does not meet any of those criteria.

"It's a minor road," said Deputy Public Works Director Tom O'Kane.

O'Kane said he empathizes with Lichau residents but that in these budget times, it comes down to priorities.

Gas taxes, the county's main source of maintenance funding, have failed to keep pace with road upkeep in recent years. The county network — the largest rural road system in the Bay Area — has fallen into disrepair as a result, with the county ranking worst or second worst in the nine-county region for road conditions the past seven years, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission

O'Kane said the Public Works Department receives about .005 percent of every property tax dollar.

"That doesn't get you very much pavement in front of your house," he said.

But Rosen said numerous Lichau Road residents have had to spend their own money to repair damage to their vehicles as a result of hitting a pothole.

She said the road conditions also pose a danger to the hundreds of kids who are bused to the Osborn Preserve for hiking excursions.

"I understand we're bankrupt," she said of the state of California, "but when you are talking about a thoroughfare to get to your home, it's an important issue for everyone."

Residents erected a large banner at the intersection of Lichau and Roberts Road to publicize their concerns and also created a website — www.savelichauroad.com.