Sonoma County will soon spend about $10 million on more than two dozen road improvement projects from funding provided by statewide fees assessed every time commuters pay at the pump.
The proposal covers repaving more than 15 miles of local roadways and 12 miles of ditching work, in addition to replacement of two viaducts and 13 culverts. California’s new gas tax is expected to collect $5.2 billion annually, but depending on the amount collected in its first year, Sonoma County will expand or reduce projects based on its slice of the pie.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved the plan last week with a 4-0 vote to address deferred maintenance needs, and the Transportation & Public Works department is gearing up to deploy crews this summer.
“It’s unprecedented,” said Johannes Hoevertsz, director of the county’s Transportation & Public Works department. “It’s going to be an awesome influx of funding for road maintenance and road repairs. Long term, we plan on delivering all the projects on that list.”
That list, which the law required be submitted ahead of time for purposes of transparency with the new tax revenues, includes resurfacing 5 miles of the Bohemian Highway and ditching — or re-establishing roadside drainages — another 3½ miles of the west county roadway. A 4-mile stretch of River Road northeast of Santa Rosa will receive similar repairs, and the viaducts at Neeley Road and Summerhome Park Road will be swapped out.
County roads and streets, and other commuter infrastructure typically fall to the bottom of the infrastructural pile when it comes to transportation upgrades because the more heavily trafficked thoroughfares, such as Highway 101, are often in greater need of fixes or construction expansions. Those projects can also qualify for matching funds from state and federal coffers depending on what nearby cities commit, granting additional priority.
“You make sure that you take care of those roads first, and that pushes others down because the funds are always less than the needs,” said Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, also a member of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. “These types of programs … allow us to get to roads we’d not get to otherwise. We need to continue to do that and make a commitment to keep growing that fund, to make sure all of our roads and investment in infrastructure is what it should be.”
The maintenance work is made possible by the passage of Senate Bill 1, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed a year ago. On Nov. 1 the base tax on a gallon of gas rose 12 cents to 30 cents per gallon, and the tax on a gallon of diesel increased 20 cents to 36 cents per gallon. Diesel also saw an additional 4 percent tax hike.
A new annual transportation improvement fee between $25 and $175 depending on the value of the vehicle, also went into effect Jan. 1, and will assess individual drivers. Zero-emission vehicles will see a $100 annual fee starting July 1, 2020 as well, and taxes at the pump will continue to rise based on inflation starting that date, too.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the recent tax increase. Some of California’s congressional Republicans agree it is a primary responsibility of the government to invest in infrastructure, but they say that requires prioritizing existing taxes rather than demanding more from already cash-strapped residents.