By SAM SCOTT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
John McGill III has been in the tire business a long time, but he never has seen the rash of pothole damage he has this year.
The toll includes burst tires, dented rims and bent suspensions, said McGill, who owns Valley Tire & Brake on Piner Road. One driver recently blew out both right tires on his Mustang, resulting in $4,000 in repairs and replacements.
“Every few years it seems like you get a bad year, and this year topped them all,” McGill said.
Certainly, there have been plenty of potholes of late on Sonoma County roads. Through April, county crews have poured asphalt patches into an estimated 81,175 potholes, 12 percent more than the same period last year.
Prolonged periods of wintery weather haven’t helped. Since July 1, nearly 40 inches of rain have fallen at the Sonoma County airport, 8 inches more than normal — and 2 inches greater than the same period last year.
“It’s the same old story,” said Rob Houweling, operations coordinator for the county transportation department. “With the rains, we’ve got no shortage of potholes.”
Cities haven’t been exempt from the problem either.
“With the heavy rains and the fact we are not able to do the maintenance that we had been able to do in the past because of the funding situation, we are seeing an increase in potholes,” said Joe Schiavone of the Santa Rosa streets department.
But county’s roads face an especially bleak future even when the sunshine returns. Last year, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors bowed to an unpleasant economic reality — the county doesn’t have the funds to maintain its 1,384-mile network of county roads, the largest in the Bay Area.
So supervisors voted to focus paving funds on 150 miles of the most trafficked roads in the county, leaving the rest to languish with only basic care such as pothole repair. Regardless of the weather, the situation will improve only if state funding does, Houweling said.
“What you are going to start finding is that each of those roads are going to start deteriorating worse and worse,” he said. “It’s kind of a no-win situation for us right now.”
Drivers who suffer damage from county potholes face their own no-win situation. As of Thursday, the county had received 46 claims alleging pothole damage since July 1. None had been recompensed.
“The county of Sonoma cannot be held liable for natural weather events that cause this type of widespread damage,” a recent denial letter stated.
As far as McGill is concerned, the best course of action may be to avoid problems altogether by driving more carefully and considering what’s on your wheels.
The spike in pothole damage at his shop isn’t a function of poor roads alone, he said. Cash-strapped drivers are pushing old treads too long. And the increased popularity of low-profile performance tires leaves some vehicles without adequate cushion to withstand the impact of hitting potholes.
“It’s a combination of things,” he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Sam Scott at 521-5431 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.