Report: Santa Rosa-area roads among worst in US for midsized communities

A new report ranks the Santa Rosa area as having the third worst roads in the nation among midsized communities.|

A new report ranks the Santa Rosa area as having the third worst roads in the nation among midsized urban communities, further underscoring what many motorists here already know with each jarring bump and rattle.

Per local motorist, an estimated $811 is spent annually on maintenance and repairs related to poor road conditions - the fifth highest total in the nation as determined by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based transportation research and advocacy organization.

The report found that 49 percent of arterial roads in the Santa Rosa area are in poor condition. Only Flint, Mich., and Antioch fared worse.

For larger urban areas, the San Francisco-Oakland region earned the dubious honor of having the nation’s worst roads, with 74 percent of thoroughfares listed in poor condition. The region also earned top honors for out-of-pocket costs to motorists, estimated at more than $1,000 annually.

The data is based on the Federal Highway Administration’s 2013 annual survey of state transportation officials on the condition of major state and locally maintained roads and highways and a uniform pavement rating index. The index measures the level of smoothness of pavement surfaces, which determines ride quality on roads and highways.

“We see shocks that leak and components like ball joints and struts that fail pretty early in life. I have a feeling it’s from riding on our rough roads,” said Nathan Boemler, owner and general manager of Greentech Automotive in Santa Rosa.

He said the cost to replace a single strut, which helps support and stabilize a vehicle, runs between $350 and $400. Such repair bills can add up quickly.

“I have that conversation with my customers a lot,” Boemler said. “They say, ‘My car has only 45,000 miles on it - why am I paying $800 for struts?’”

Sonoma County has such a well-earned reputation for bad roads that Clover Stornetta has introduced a new flavor of ice cream called “Petaluma Pothole.” The ice cream is an ode to rocky road, of course, and is advertised with the tagline: “It’s a pothole you’ll want to hit.”

Humor aside, the condition of Sonoma County’s roads is a constant source of aggravation for most motorists. It’s also endless fodder for debate over how best to tackle the problem.

Spending bill soon to expire

The TRIP report was timed to put pressure on Congress to re-authorize a federal road and highway spending bill that expires next Friday.

Rocky Moretti, TRIP’s director of research and policy and the author of the report, said on a conference call with reporters Thursday that there is a “significant need” for Congress to address the nation’s transportation infrastructure. He was joined on the call by representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AAA.

TRIP is supported by insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, distributors and suppliers, labor unions and businesses involved in highway and transit engineering, construction and finance.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx sent letters to every state highway agency in the nation on July 14 warning that local transportation projects could be threatened if funding is not extended. California relies on federal highway funds for nearly half of its state transportation budget.

Six Caltrans projects in Sonoma and Mendocino counties could be imperiled by a funding delay, according to state officials. None are categorized as major projects.

The Obama administration earlier this year proposed a six-year, $478 billion transportation plan that would increase spending by about $25 billion a year.

North Coast lawmakers chime in

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, on Thursday signaled his support for that plan.

“By failing to pass a long-term highway bill we’re allowing our infrastructure to crumble and we’re leaving jobs on the table,” Thompson said in a statement.

However, current bills floated by House and Senate Republicans would extend funding only on a short-term basis and near the current level of about $50 billion.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, on Thursday made the case that the current situation cannot stand.

“When you get a report like this, about road conditions and maintenance costs in Sonoma County, it’s a great example of what eventually happens when you don’t take care of your infrastructure,” Huffman said from the nation’s capital.

Huffman has introduced legislation that would replace the federal gas tax with a levy based on the carbon content of transportation fuels, including biofuels and different types of crude oil.

He argues the change would provide a more sustainable and predictable source of funding. Huffman also is backing legislation that would increase the gas tax.

But the North Coast congressman predicted that the best his colleagues will be able to muster in the short term is another six-month extension at current funding levels.

“That’s a very Pyrrhic victory for anyone who cares about this,” he said.

Rejected sales-tax increase

Locally, Sonoma County voters in June overwhelmingly rejected a proposed quarter-cent sales-tax increase that officials touted to help fund road repairs. Sonoma County supervisors followed up two weeks later by approving more than $22 million over the next two years for road repairs and pavement preservation as part of the county’s budget.

The funding allocation is on top of the roughly $18 million the county has spent since 2013 on paving. The work targets 198 miles of the county’s total network of 1,382 miles of road.

Critics call that a paltry amount for what it will take to make significant improvements to county roads, with an estimated long-term maintenance backlog of $268 million.

Supervisor David Rabbitt, who was the county’s leading advocate for passage of Measure A, acknowledged that the county did not put enough money aside in years past to deal with road repairs. But he said supervisors are trying to change that going forward.

“I think what we’re spending will make a big difference, and I think it already has,” he said.

Rabbitt questioned the methodology of the TRIP report, saying the county’s high ranking for the poor conditions of its roads may have been skewed by including out-of-the-way roads.

“I’m not trying to make excuses, but when you have that many miles of road, you’ll always have roads that are lightly used and aren’t a top priority for paving. That will bring down the overall picture,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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