Santa Rosa road network could fail without added maintenance dollars, officials say

The city spends $11 million annually on pavement maintenance, but staff said funding must be bumped up to $15.5 million a year, plus adjustments for inflation, to maintain current road conditions.|

What does the city’s road network look like?

Santa Rosa’s road network comprises 512 miles of residential, collector and arterial streets of varying age and condition. Road health is measured on a scale of 0 to 100 on the Pavement Condition Index.

• 47% of city roads have a rating between 70 and 100 and are classified as being in good condition.

• 21% have ratings between 50 and 69, which is considered at-risk, and are beginning to show cracks and distress but are in good enough condition to be repaired through more cost-effective measures.

• 28% of the network has a PCI rating of 26 to 49 and is in poor condition. That means the underlying foundation is damaged and requires more extensive repairs or reconstruction.

• 4% of the roads have a rating of 25 or below and are considered to have failed.

Pavement condition can be affected by several factors including the age of the road, construction materials, use and environmental stresses.

Heavy vehicles and repeated loading are one of the leading causes of road deterioration, especially on neighborhood streets that aren’t designed to withstand that type of traffic.

One example of that type of distress can be seen across Coffey Park and Fountaingrove, where heavy trucks removed burned material and other debris after the 2017 Tubbs fire and caused the roads to crack.

Roads built before 1980 were built to different construction and design standards and tend to have less longevity. City staff is seeing major deterioration on many of those streets.

Some of the worst roads are in northwest Santa Rosa and in Oakmont. Roseland and the city’s southwest boast some of the best pavement conditions.

Source: Santa Rosa Transportation and Public Works Department

Parts of Ditty Avenue, a residential street that runs perpendicular to Bicentennial Park in northwest Santa Rosa, are made up of fractured asphalt and pockmarked with potholes.

City staff describes the deterioration as “alligator cracking” because of its resemblance to the reptile’s skin, and it can also be seen in the neighborhoods just north and south of where Highway 12 ends in Bennett Valley.

These neighborhood streets are in some of the poorest shape citywide and make up part of the 4% of the city’s 512-mile road network classified as having failed.

Though that group is a small share of Santa Rosa’s roads, city transportation officials warn it could grow to represent a majority if the city doesn’t increase its investment in pavement preservation.

“The data shows if we don’t put more money in, it will continue to deteriorate over the years,” said Rob Sprinkle, deputy director with the Transportation and Public Works Department, who oversees traffic engineering.

Transportation staff are set to present the department’s proposed budget Wednesday for the upcoming fiscal year to the City Council.

Santa Rosa spends $11 million annually on pavement maintenance, but staff recently told the City Council that funding must be bumped up to $15.5 million a year, plus adjustments for inflation, to maintain the current road conditions and prevent the system from failing.

Maintenance work is paid through gas taxes, grants and a quarter-cent countywide transportation sales tax. But it will take a greater financial commitment from the city to meet repair demands, staff said.

Replacing the city’s entire network would cost $1.4 billion, so getting ahead of the curve through preservation measures is more cost-effective, they said.

“You can see the benefit of the preservation dollars now … opposed to waiting and trying to play catch-up at a later date,” Dan Baker, an associate with the city’s materials engineering lab, told the council during an April 26 study session.

Staff finding other ways to extend road life

Pavement health is measured on a scale of zero to 100, known as the Pavement Condition Index, with zero being a gravel road and 100 being a newly paved street.

Santa Rosa’s network has a score of 62.

A 2020 report from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the transportation planning and financing agency for the Bay Area, puts Santa Rosa in the middle of the pack among the region’s 101 cities. In Sonoma County, Windsor had the best rating at 76 while Petaluma ranked the worst and was second from the bottom across the entire nine-county region at 42.

Pavement condition can be affected by several factors including the age of the road, construction materials, use and environmental stresses, Sprinkle said.

City engineers are looking at different ways to extend the life of the roads, testing different construction materials and preservation methods.

Staff has injected Kevlar fiber into the asphalt mix to strengthen and increase the durability of pavement, a method used during the reconstruction and widening of Stony Point Road in 2018, Sprinkle said.

The city used concrete to rebuild a section of Fulton Road between West Third Street and Occidental Road, which can more than double the life expectancy of a road compared to traditional asphalt. The city will use concrete when it widens another stretch of Fulton Road from Piner to Guerneville roads, Sprinkle said.

But while staff point to using concrete as one alternative to extend a road’s lifespan, it can be difficult to cut through when underground utility repairs are needed.

Staff also is looking at new treatment types that can help fill the gap between a seal typically used to rehabilitate a newer road and more intensive roadwork, he said.

Roads are designed with a 20-year life span, but Sprinkle said the city is getting 30 to 35 years out of some roads because of these newer methods.

“We’re seeing longer life out of our streets, and that’s probably why our streets aren’t in worse condition than they are today,” he said.

Still, street staff said there is a backlog in maintenance and without further investment in a more aggressive maintenance and preservation program, road conditions will continue to worsen.

‘If the roads are falling apart, we’re in trouble’

Sprinkle and his team estimate that at the current level of spending, the city’s overall pavement condition will drop to 55 by 2031 and to 50 by 2041.

Wear and tear is much more visible to the average resident when the condition of a road falls below 50. At that threshold, pavement tends to more quickly deteriorate and cheaper preservation methods are no longer effective, Sprinkle said.

It costs $4 a square yard to treat the surface of a road and prevent further cracking with a slurry seal, which extends the life of a road by five to eight years. Meanwhile, an overlay costs about $52 a square yard and only extends the life of the road by an average of 10 to 15 years.

Complete reconstruction could be needed if the road is in too bad of shape, which can cost $200 a square yard.

“That’s a big jump,” Sprinkle said.

Sonoma County faced a similar issue, but after years of deferred road maintenance and public outcry about poor road conditions, the Board of Supervisors in 2012 approved investing millions in general fund money annually to repair and upgrade the 1,300-mile county road network.

The additional general fund dollars have made a difference, said Craig Harrison, president of Save Our Sonoma Roads, which advocates for better road infrastructure.

Harrison said his group tried to lobby cities across the county, including Santa Rosa, to make a similar investment but their efforts fell flat.

The current maintenance budget isn’t going to cut it, he said.

“One of the basic functions of local government is to take care of the transportation system, which for many of us are the roads,” he said. “If the roads are falling apart, we’re in trouble.”

Santa Rosa’s road maintenance budget will get a one-time boost from disaster aid to pay for road repairs in Coffey Park and Fountaingrove related to the 2017 Tubbs fire. That is expected to boost the city’s overall rating, but one-time funding isn’t enough to make a long-term impact, Sprinkle said.

Sprinkle would not say whether the department is seeking an injection of general fund money to fill the gap in maintenance spending, but said he hopes the City Council is aware of the need when making budget decisions later this summer.

“The money that we do get and we do program for pavement is extremely valuable because we get a limited amount,” he said. “Laying that framework for them, of what that need is, is something we wanted to do so council understands where we are so as they make decisions on the budget they have that in the back of their mind.”

City departments began presenting their budget requests to the City Council on Tuesday as part of a two-day workshop.

You can reach Staff Writer Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or paulina.pineda@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @paulinapineda22.

What does the city’s road network look like?

Santa Rosa’s road network comprises 512 miles of residential, collector and arterial streets of varying age and condition. Road health is measured on a scale of 0 to 100 on the Pavement Condition Index.

• 47% of city roads have a rating between 70 and 100 and are classified as being in good condition.

• 21% have ratings between 50 and 69, which is considered at-risk, and are beginning to show cracks and distress but are in good enough condition to be repaired through more cost-effective measures.

• 28% of the network has a PCI rating of 26 to 49 and is in poor condition. That means the underlying foundation is damaged and requires more extensive repairs or reconstruction.

• 4% of the roads have a rating of 25 or below and are considered to have failed.

Pavement condition can be affected by several factors including the age of the road, construction materials, use and environmental stresses.

Heavy vehicles and repeated loading are one of the leading causes of road deterioration, especially on neighborhood streets that aren’t designed to withstand that type of traffic.

One example of that type of distress can be seen across Coffey Park and Fountaingrove, where heavy trucks removed burned material and other debris after the 2017 Tubbs fire and caused the roads to crack.

Roads built before 1980 were built to different construction and design standards and tend to have less longevity. City staff is seeing major deterioration on many of those streets.

Some of the worst roads are in northwest Santa Rosa and in Oakmont. Roseland and the city’s southwest boast some of the best pavement conditions.

Source: Santa Rosa Transportation and Public Works Department

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