Sonoma County continues yearslong push in road repairs
Workers began improvements Monday to about 54 miles of pavement in Sonoma County’s unincorporated areas, continuing a $65 million effort launched about five years ago to revitalize the region’s vast and beleaguered road system.
Beginning with crack-sealing to roads outside Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, this summer’s $13.2 million pavement program will eventually include a more substantial rehabilitation of aging roads from Cloverdale to the Sonoma Valley. Once the 54 mile-program is finished, the county will have provided a face-lift to more than 260 miles since the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
Beyond the $65 million the Board of Supervisors committed to resurfacing roads in recent years, the board also set aside more than $20 million in this year’s budget for road-related expenses, $12.9 million of which is for paving projects yet to be detailed. Supervisor James Gore said it’s a far cry from where the county was five years ago, when it began a concerted effort to invest more money in its roughly 1,380-mile road system — the largest in the Bay Area.
Sonoma County spends more discretionary dollars on roads than any other county in California, according to county officials.
“We’re effectively, finally crawling out of this problem and seeing progress,” he said. “We can’t promise everybody that we can pave your roads in the next four to five years, but we can say that the major connectors in your area will get paved. The road that’s connected to your small rural road that has high vehicle miles traveled — we’re going to get there, and then we’re going to start to be able to get into the feeders.”
The 54 miles of improvements this summer will include a range of work, from light asphalt patching to maintain good pavement and more extensive rebuilding necessary for a road that’s in particularly bad shape, according to the county.
The entire program will take until fall to complete, said Susan Klassen, director of the county’s Transportation and Public Works department. “We’ll be using every bit of the summer construction season, or the dry season, to get it done,” Klassen said. “Each one is absolutely different, depending upon what treatment was planned and what other work has to be done to prepare it for that treatment. So each individual one will have its own time schedule.”
Supervisors approved plans for a 97-mile road improvement program last year, but the severe storms this winter forced the county to delay much of the work until next year. That’s because part of the program was supposed to be completed by county maintenance workers who got behind because of the storms, Klassen said, while some of the other roads were so badly damaged the county needed to redesign the treatment it planned for them.
Still, the efforts underway were lauded by Craig Harrison of Save Our Sonoma Roads, a 750-member group he co-founded in 2011 to campaign for road improvements.
“When we got started, the concern was that large amounts of our county road system were essentially degrading into rubble and might even become roads that are not even paved and just gravel and dirt,” Harrison said. “I think they’re making good progress, and we hope they just continue to keep it up.”
Starting later this year, the county will begin receiving more money that it plans to invest into its road system thanks to Senate Bill 1, the transportation funding package approved by the state Legislature earlier this year. The county expects to receive about $3.8 million in new revenue from SB 1 this year, half of which it intends to invest into pavement projects.
Once the full provisions of SB 1 take effect, the county is projected to receive about $14 million annually in additional state gas tax revenue, according to Klassen.
Officials are also mulling the best path forward for Measure M, the county’s quarter-cent sales tax for transportation efforts that expires in 2023. The county is planning to ask voters to renew the measure next year, but officials do not yet know if they will ask to maintain the tax at the current rate or raise it, said Supervisor David Rabbitt.
Part of the decision will revolve around how local voters react to the increased gas taxes from SB 1, which motorists will start to pay at the pump in November.
“Will people feel like enough is enough on the tax side, or would they see this as really being, we can finally make a huge difference — if not a generational difference — in the care of our infrastructure?” Rabbitt said.
Rabbitt said he would “love for us” to add a quarter-cent to the sales tax. A decision isn’t likely before the tail end of the year.
You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or email@example.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.