Dozens of pins protruded from a Sonoma County map as residents marked crumbling or unsafe roads in their neighborhoods. There was a pin on Arnold Drive near the new roundabout and one at the other end near Leveroni Road, three pins on a small stretch of Trinity Road, more pins on Sonoma Mountain Road, Boyes Boulevard, Verano Avenue, Madrone Road – pin after pin after pin.
First District Supervisor Susan Gorin asked Valley residents attending a Wednesday night Roads Summit, hosted by Save Our Sonoma Roads, to place pins on the map pointing out any roads they felt were in bad condition and needed to be a priority for repair.
“We hear almost daily – sometimes multiple times – about the deplorable conditions of roads in the Valley,” Gorin said in her opening statement, adding she hoped hearing community concerns would help set the stage for a forum next year to talk about a multi-faceted countywide plan to address road conditions.
In 2011, Craig Harrison and Michael Troy formed the grassroots organization, Save Our Sonoma Roads, searching for reasons why Sonoma roads are worse than those in other counties and for solutions to improve transportation and safety in the Valley. Along with longtime Boyes Hot Springs resident and community activist Gina Cuclis, the two put on the Wednesday night Roads Summit at Ramekins Culinary School, Event Center and Inn to engage the community in a thoughtful and informative discussion.
At 1,383 miles, Sonoma county’s road system is the largest in the Bay Area, but Sonoma ranks 18th out of California’s 58 counties in terms of gas tax per mile. According to an analysis by Save Our Sonoma Roads, 70 percent of California counties get less tax revenue, and all 40 have better road conditions. In June 2012, the Board of Supervisors concluded 751 miles of Sonoma County’s roads are in failed or poor condition.
But a California Local Streets And Roads Needs Assessment, conducted in January 2013, revealed the condition of Sonoma roads (blending the much better city streets with county roads) ranked eighth worst in California.
“The roads deteriorated greatly from the 1990 era till now because the Board of Supervisors – lots of supervisors and lots of boards – successively took their eye off the ball and dropped or froze funding,” said Harrison, adding that the county was focused on funding pensions and roads suffered during both economic booms and recessions.
Gorin noted a majority of funding for roads is allocated by federal and state governments and collected through gas taxes. The federal gas tax has remained at 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993 while maintenance and improvement costs have increased.
“(The United States government) has made a conscious effort at the federal level to disinvest in the highway system,” Gorin said, adding the government would need to increase its road funding by 21 percent, or $156 billion, to keep roads at current conditions; and by 51 percent, or $374 billion, to make only moderate improvements. Gorin said the Board of Supervisors is working to improve roads as they are vital to transportation, safety and the economy.
The evening’s featured speaker, newly appointed Sonoma County Transportation and Public Works Director Susan Klassen, is one of the people searching for solutions and seeking improvements. Inadequate funding of the roads system and the increasing price of asphalt has made it impossible to effectively fund maintenance and repair of the county’s roads, Klassen said.