By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
When it comes to damaging city streets, there isn’t anything quite like a garbage truck.
Lumbering through neighborhoods, stopping and starting, turning and backing, they stress the pavement more than 9,300 times as much as an SUV does, according to one study.
“In general, it’s acknowledged that garbage trucks beat the crap out of streets,” said Santa Rosa City Councilman Gary Wysocky. “They get the most wear and tear from garbage trucks.”
An engineering analysis cited by the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission found a garbage truck puts more strain on a street than just about anything else, including a fully loaded transit bus, a semi-truck hauling a single trailer, or a UPS delivery truck, said John Goodwin, an MTC spokesman.
Santa Rosa has taken the step of making the top layer of asphalt thicker to help counter the impact of the 25-ton-plus behemoths, which account for an estimated $2.2 million in annual street maintenance costs, according to a 2010 study.
As financially strapped cities experience a proliferation of fissures and potholes, garbage trucks are getting renewed scrutiny to see if the companies that own them should be contributing more to fix streets.
In Windsor, a transportation consultant last week recommended the town explore imposing a fee on the town’s garbage hauler for the damage the trucks cause to the pavement.
“The fact of the matter is they are the heaviest vehicles on the road,” said Ted Lidie, the project manager who documented the overall deterioration of Windsor’s street pavements from a “very good” grade in 2008, to simply “good” this year.
“When those roads were designed, there was a lot less waste (being hauled),” he said of Windsor’s 84 miles of paved roads. “Trucks were smaller.”
And with recycling and multiple waste streams, there are more truck trips generated than in the past. In Santa Rosa, for example, one truck with a split container picks up garbage and yard waste in one pass, and a separate truck collects recyclable material.
“Typically where a truck might have come by in a single stretch, once a week, now they’re coming by two and three times a week,” Goodwin said of the way it works in many Bay Area communities.
He said the state gasoline tax of 18 cents per gallon that helps fund road repairs has not been raised since 1994, so it does not go as far as it once did, due to inflation. And the cost of asphalt, an oil-based substance, has risen.
That means more local governments may be looking at imposing some form of pavement impact fee on garbage trucks.
“There’s an expectation it may come up in more municipalities in the Bay Area in the future, and it’s an issue that just now is coming to the surface,” Goodwin said.
“It seems to be popular to impose fees on garbage trucks and gravel trucks these days. Yes, they weigh a lot,” said former Sonoma County Supervisor Ernie Carpenter, a consultant for the owners of Sonoma County’s major garbage hauler, North Bay Corp.
Of course, any new fee could show up in higher garbage bills for residents and businesses.
“Any fee that would be implemented under the current contract would go right back to the ratepayer,” said Steve McAffrey, a spokesman for North Bay Corp., which has the garbage franchise for all the cities in Sonoma County other than Sonoma.
One of those cities, Petaluma, already has a “vehicle impact fee” levied on the garbage company. In 2008, the city calculated the yearly cost to city streets caused by garbage trucks at $1.6 million.
As a result, the city charges an 18 percent franchise fee on the garbage company revenues, which includes 8 percent for street repairs.
But that generates just $750,000 annually for street repair, said Larry Zimmer, the city’s capital improvement manager.
Petaluma also has the worst streets of any of Sonoma County’s nine cities, with an “at risk” grade, according to a 2009 MTC assessment of pavement conditions in the Bay Area.
Santa Rosa’s streets fared better overall. Like most cities in the county, it has a “fair” rating. But the impact of garbage trucks has been on the city’s radar for awhile.
Santa Rosa about a decade ago took measures to deal with the heavier weight of garbage trucks on residential streets by increasing the minimal thickness of asphalt to three inches from the old standard of about 2½ inches, said Peter Dodsworth, a materials engineer with the city.
City Attorney Caroline Fowler said there isn’t a specific garbage truck impact fee, but “we kind of factor that into the franchise fee, which is higher than some cities in Sonoma County.”
In the past few years, some cities, including Windsor and Healdsburg, have required their garbage hauler to use slightly less weighty vehicles to reduce the stress on streets.
North Bay’s McAffrey said that as result, Windsor’s loaded garbage trucks weigh about 48,000 pounds, compared with the 51,000 pounds of fully weighted truck in other jurisdictions.
As a result, he said, Windsor rates are slightly higher than average.
Windsor Mayor Steve Allen said the recent report that details the rapid decline in the conditions of Windsor’s roads and the $1 million annual shortfall to maintain them is “sobering.”
But he said the issue of imposing a fee on garbage trucks needs more study. “When you talk about an impact fee, you’re talking about increasing the cost to the community,” he said.
Windsor Public Works Director Richard Burtt said many town streets were built 20 to 25 years ago and are showing their age.
“We’re starting to see the deterioration of streets. As they get older, it becomes more evident and it comes more rapidly,” he said, adding “You can’t blame the whole thing on garbage trucks. They’re one factor.
Windsor Councilman Sam Salmon linked consumerism with the impact garbage trucks are having on the roads.
“Try to recycle and preserve and leave as much at the store as you can in terms of packaging,” he said.