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Calling it a "legacy opportunity," the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan to commit $200 million over the next decade to improve 700 miles of county roads, more than half of the 1,370-mile system.

"Now is the opportune time," Board Chairman David Rabbitt said, noting that the county's rebounding economy makes it possible to plan on spending $20 million a year on road improvements.

The long-term road plan, outlined by Transportation and Public Works Director Susan Klassen, would bring more than half of the county roads to a "good" pavement rating, compared with 26 percent currently at that rating.

Klassen called the plan an "aggressive start" toward the ultimate goal of eliminating a $268 million backlog in road repairs.

Sonoma County's potholed and bumpy roads have for years been rated among the worst in the Bay Area.

Smoother roads will mean a "better experience" for tourists, greater safety for bicyclists and more comfort for residents who drive them every day, Rabbitt said. "Our kidneys will be thankful," he said.

Applauded by representatives of the Operating Engineers union and by citizens who lobbied for road repairs, the plan does not address two major issues: Which roads will ultimately be among the 700 miles to be improved, and how the county will come up with the money.

The plan drafted by Klassen's department gave top priority to the county's major roads, which handle 800 to 4,000 vehicle trips per day.

Rabbitt said the supervisors opted to include rural residential roads in unincorporated communities ranging from Asti to Occidental to Schellville on the upgrade list.

"We want to spread it out much more," he said.

Federal funds typically cover the maintenance of 350 miles of the county's busiest arteries, Rabbitt noted.

No decisions have been made on which roads will be fixed in the next 10 years, officials said.

Nor has specific funding been addressed, although the report notes that a quarter- or half-cent sales tax, if approved by voters, would raise $8 million or $16 million a year, respectively, under the current formula for sharing road tax revenues.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane suggested an excise tax instead, noting that sales taxes are regressive and "hurt low-income families." Excise taxes typically are attached to the sale of specific goods, such as gasoline.

Another funding possibility is a hotel bed tax increase that would generate $900,000 a year.

Rabbitt and Supervisor Mike McGuire, who spearheaded the road plan, noted that the county has spent or planned to spend an additional $24 million over three years, including the upcoming fiscal year, to improve 150 miles of roads.

Fixing 850 miles of roads covers more than 60 percent of the county system, McGuire said, calling it "the single largest investment this board has made in modern years."

Fixing roads is "the No. 1 issue facing Sonoma County from every perspective," Supervisor Susan Gorin said.

Michael Troy, representing the Save Our Sonoma Roads advocacy group, applauded the plan, saying the condition of local byways "certainly affects the quality of life."

Windsor Town Councilwoman Deb Fudge, a candidate for 4th District supervisor, said the board was "finally doing what's needed to be done for the last 10 to 15 years."

A county-funded consultant's study, including a mile-by-mile road survey, recently reduced the estimated road maintenance backlog from $920 million to $268 million.

Klassen said the improvements would range from full road reconstruction to paving and chip sealing.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.