Board balks at abandoning rural roads

  • Fitch Mountain Road, Tuesday June 14, 2011 is one of the roads county supervisors are debating whether or not to decrease repair funding in order to help close a budget deficit. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2011

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors gave a chilly reception Tuesday to a proposal to cease all maintenance on 100 miles of rural roads.

The staff of the Department of Transportation and Public Works presented the move as a way to help close a $43 million gap in the county general fund.

But several supervisors looked dubious. Any attempt to release roadways to the elements would spark huge opposition from residents who consider basic road maintenance to be their right as taxpayers, Supervisor Valerie Brown said.

"People will say &‘I don't bother you, I don't get in your way,'" she said. "'But when something happens on the road, I expect it to be taken care of.'"

Brown and other supervisors asked Phil Demery, the county's director of transportation and public works, to present alternatives when they convene again Wednesday to consider the spectrum of cuts facing the county.

"It feels a little disingenuous to score savings like that when you haven't even had public hearings on that proposal," Brown said after the meeting.

But Demery said there's nowhere left to cut after years of insufficient funding for nearly 1,400 miles of county roads, the largest network of rural roads in the Bay Area.

Demery's proposal targets low-volume byways used by 400 vehicles a day or less, excepting roads where property owners have no other way out.

"Plan B," he said, would likely be to seasonally close two of the county's four road yards, which would reduce service levels everywhere.

"I just don't see a way out of the box we have put ourselves in," he said. "We have way too much infrastructure for the revenue that we have right now and that is not sustainable."

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