WatchSonoma Watch

GUEST OPINION: A high price for crumbling roads

Craig S. Harrison

Craig S. Harrison of Santa Rosa is co-founder of Save Our Sonoma Roads. You can find the group online at SOSRoads.org.

Anyone with a passing familiarity with rural Sonoma County knows that the deterioration of our roads is reaching crisis levels. The sorry state of our crumbling county road system is directly correlated to insufficient funding for road maintenance and preservation.

The Board of Supervisors has neglected county roads for decades, during economic booms such as the dot-com era and during downturns such as the current recession. The county has designated 219 miles of high priority roads (e.g., Adobe Road, Bodega Highway, Guerneville Road and East Dry Creek Road) that will be properly maintained. The supervisors have no plans to rebuild, repave or do anything but fill potholes on 1,163 miles (84 percent) of our county roads. Consult the map (http://sosroads.org/) and you will readily find orphan roads that are important to you.

Without a pavement preservation program, the orphaned roads will deteriorate to a point where they can only be ground up into gravel or completely rebuilt. At a cost of about $1 million per mile, this would cost more than $1.1 billion, which is almost same amount as the annual budget covering all county government expenditures.

Unless budget priorities are changed, you can expect most roads to continue to worsen at an increasingly rapid rate. For the current fiscal year, the Board of Supervisors budgeted $22.6 million for road maintenance. Of this, $4.2 million comes from the general fund and $18.4 million comes from federal and state funds.

Federal road funds are restricted by law to be used on the 356 miles of higher-volume arterial and collector roads. Thus even if federal funding increased dramatically the situation would barely improve.

State funding primarily comes from the sales tax on fuel and an excise tax (18 cents per gallon) that has not increased since 1992. Only 3 cents of the excise tax is sent directly to counties, and it’s allocated using a formula that disadvantages Sonoma County.

In the Bay Area, federal and state funds are allocated among nine counties by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and it focuses on urban areas. The commission has little interest in the problems of Sonoma County’s rural roads.

Since 2008, the Board of Supervisors has reduced road funding from the general fund by 46 percent. The current $4.2 million level represents about<QA0>

1 cent from every dollar collected in property taxes in the county. The decline in funds has resulted in far fewer road workers. The consequences of these cuts are reflected in the quality of our roads.

Because more than 50 percent of the orphan roads are considered to be near or at the end of their useful life, by default the supervisors are allowing roads to deteriorate. The result of ignoring the problem is that rebuilding the roads will cost 10-15 times more than what pavement preservation would have cost. The estimated yearly cost to preserve the pavement on the orphan roads is $105 million per year.

At some point, rather than constantly filling more and more potholes, the county Department of Transportation and Public Works has indicated that the only alternative will be to grind up the asphalt and turn roads into gravel. When this happens, Sonoma County residents will experience far-ranging impacts. Property values will decline, businesses depending on tourism will suffer, emergency service response times will increase and quality of life will be diminished.

What can be done? The problem will not be easily solved, and it will take years to improve the condition of our roads. A delay of even a few more years would be catastrophic to the future of Sonoma County. The question that the supervisors must answer with respect to each item in the county budget is the following — why is this program or service more important than repairing our roads?



26 Responses to “GUEST OPINION: A high price for crumbling roads”

  1. Kay Tokerud says:

    @Mockingbird Since I’m bothering you so much with my informative posts, here’s some more: Page 233 of UN Agenda 21; 28.3 Each local authority should enter into a dialogue with its citizens, local organizations and private enterprises and adopt a “a local Agenda 21″. Through consultation and consensus-building, local authorities would learn from citizens and from local, civic, community, business and industrial organizations and acquire the information needed for formulating the best strategies. The process of consultation would increase household awareness of sustainable development issues. Local authority programs, policies, laws and regulations to achieve Agenda 21 objectives would be assessed and modified, based on local programs adopted, Strategies could also be used in supporting proposals for local, national, regional, and international funding.

    It goes on to say in 28.4; Partnerships should be fostered among relevant organs and organizations such as UNDP, the United Nations Center for Human Settlements (Habitat) and UNEP, the World Bank, regional banks, the International Union of Local Authorities, the World Association of the Major Metropolises, Summit of Great Cities of the World, the United Towns Organization and other relevant partners, with a view to mobilizing increased international support for local authority programs.”

    Two important things here, one is that the local authorities have not engaged the citizens in their efforts to implement agenda 21, and that the World Bank as well as regional banks are major players in Agenda 21. Occupiers take notice of this.

    Our City Council members will admit privately that they are implementing the local Agenda 21 plan but will not do so publicly. If they did, they would have to engage with a dialogue with the citizens and they don’t want to do that. They know how angry people would be when they found out that this international plan which threatens the sovereignty of our nation is being implemented without their knowledge or consent.

    Those in our group are committed to informing the public about the agenda of those power brokers who seek to transform the way Americans live and how we are governed. For the agenda 21 deniers, you don’t have to read my posts if you are afraid of the information. I wouldn’t want to upset you. For all others, I recommend that you read the document yourselves as it is available to read on the internet. EARTH SUMMIT AGENDA 21 is available on Amazon but it costs $1,000. I found a copy for less.

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  2. Graeme Wellington says:

    The people that want to prioritize roads over rail are just a small fringe element, right?


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  3. mockingbird says:

    John T-don’t you know, there is ALWAYS money for one more manager. Just looked it up and the top salary is over $155,000 and that doesn’t count the perks and county paid 5% deferred comp they get per paycheck and increase the amount they get when they retire. THAT COUNTY PAID DEFERRED COMPENSATION NEEDS TO STOP. Hear that BOS? Let the managers contribute out of their paychecks like the rank and file have to if they want to contribute. Along with other monetary perks that count toward managers’ retirement.

    People out there, the more top heavy in management the higher the cost to we taxpayers AND the fewer services we get because of rank and file layoffs.

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  4. Craig Harrison says:

    John T:

    Please provide some documentation for the job advertisement for a PR person in Health & Human Services.

    All others:

    Thanks for the kind words. We are just beginning this fight.

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  5. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    I am so sick of people posting about ICLEI and Area 51. OOPS, I mean Agenda 21. WHO CARES? You spout nonsense.

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  6. Kay Tokerud says:

    Letting the rural roads crumble is what ICLEI wants our Supervisors to do. The Supervisors recently gave themselves an award for achieving all 5 milestones of ICLEI. ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability is it’s official name now. ICLEI implements UN Agenda 21 locally in over 600 cities in the United States and in many other countries. There’s two main parts to UN Agenda 21, Smartgrowth, where they tightly pack humans into urban areas, preferably along a train routes, and the Wildlands program that wants to get humans out of the rural areas so those areas will become wilderness (“untrammeled by man”). People in the rural areas are under seige right now because of new regulations. Conservation easements, well regulations, septic tank regulations, creek setbacks, mountain top protection, habitat areas, viewsheds, post office shutdowns, reductions in road maintenance, and this is just a partial list.

    Supervisor Valerie Brown is on the National board of ICLEI USA and is the district director for this area. She had special security clearance at the United Nations meeting in Copenhagen recently. She is leading the charge to implement these programs on behalf of ICLEI, an international non-government organization that is officially recognized by the United Nations. And they refuse to talk about it publicly. Why?

    On my coffee table is the book called EARTH SUMMIT AGENDA 21 THE UNITED NATIONS PROGRAMME OF ACTION FROM RIO. Full documentation is available online for anyone who cares to look. People are waking up to what is being done all over the country to limit us in where and how we live. Property rights are disappearing.

    Will they pay the rural landowners who lose the value of their land when they let the roads crumble? They have no plans to compensate anyone for loss of use of their land. Property owners should demand that Sonoma County compensate them for their loss of value. If the county had to pay they would not be doing all the things to harm rural property owners. Urban and rural people need to unite on these issues and help the rural property owners keep their roads paved.

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  7. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @Keep it local – “Let’s pitch in and stop complaining.”
    Nice sentiment, but this is hardly the place to bring it up, since complaining seems to be all most posters want to do here.
    @Scott P – “The fire fighters make SO MUCH, because their union requires that they get paid for sleeping”
    While I have issues with the Fire unions, overtime for Fire is controlled by the Fair Labor Standards Act, not the union.

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  8. Money Grubber says:

    Scott P. :

    Thanks for your post.

    Gov. Jerry Brown has already qualified himself for 3 public pensions, and the total cost to the public is huge.

    But, power is addictive. He prefers to go for re-election (again) so he can manipulate the public no differently than a third world dictator.

    Vote “NO” on his tax increase request which is coming this fall.

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  9. Scott P says:

    The new one percenters are our government leaders. They contribute virtually nothing to their benefits, they retire earlier than any private sector worker, and they frequently take another government job at ridiculously high wages.

    2008 Source: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2009/02/03/santarosapay2008.DTL

    1 Diaz, Frederick M
    City Manager $263,376
    2 Levine, Harvey
    City Attorney $260,775
    3 Steckler, Craig
    Police Chief $244,759
    4 Pelley, Michael
    Fire Captain $227,606
    5 Martin, Bruce K
    Fire Chief $225,251

    The fire fighters make SO MUCH, because their union requires that they get paid for sleeping. So in a 48 on, 96 off, 48 on schedule, the contract forces the city to pay time and a half and double time automatically.

    Any normal business would tell the union, “each fireman will only work ONE 40 hr shift per week. No over time unless they are out on call at the end of their shift. We will hire additional fireman to fill. No guaranteed pensions. You pay into a 401K system like normal people. You will also pay for 50% of your medical. Finally, if you take another job during retirement, your pension is suspended during your new govt employment.

    Roads, parks and the other basics will never be a priority as long as we voters permit this abuse to continue.

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  10. Missy says:

    Very good article. What can be done? Stop voting for Democrats that take the money for roads and put it into helping illegal aliens get housing.

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  11. Social Dis-Ease says:

    Mr. Grubber: good post,
    Burbank Housing is an enormous racket.

    Speaking of rackets; Redevelopment.

    Think Thursdays Supreme Court Ruling on Redevelopment is a little bigger than how to dispose of your X-Mas tree?

    A HUGE win for the People and the fiscal health of our cities and services, should be on front page.

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  12. The Fish Speak says:

    Crumbling roads are very symbolic to what is happening to the whole state of California. The entitlement state has brought nothing but more poverty, unemployment, higher taxes, huge and growing government debt and spending, government regulation of the private sector and our person lives, massive illegal immigration, crumbling schools, and an ever falling standard of living for most of the residents.

    All of these problems have a direct link back to the laws passed in Sacramento. Isn’t socialism great? All decaying road lead to Sacramento.

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  13. Keep It Local says:

    When you look at the County general fund spending, you’ll see that much of it is spent to deal with criminal justice issues. It would really help if all the people who want better roads would get involved in supporting education and healthy children and families. Preventing social problems would mean we’d need to spend less on jails and courts and could spend more on roads, parks, and a better Sonoma County.

    Rather than blaming the Supervisors, we should ask ourselves how we as a community can reduce the need to spend so much on criminal justice. Look around your neighborhood and see what you can do to lend an encouraging word or helping hand to a struggling student or family. Reach across town if your neighborhood is doing just fine. Offer a job or internship to a high school student. Become a mentor or tutor. All of these things can help us to create a productive community where everyone contributes. Let’s pitch in and stop complaining.

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  14. This Has to Stop says:

    As long as we have a Board of Stupidvisors who shift road maintenance tax monies to their pet projects the roads will continue to deter much as they did when Rome fell.

    The hundreds of millions being spent on smart couldn’t help but fill lots of potholes and maintain county roads which are the basic transportation for most people living outside of cities in Sonoma County.

    But smart is the new redevelopment plan for the county shifting thousands of people into new condos, appartments and tiny little box houses next to the train tracks and in the process changing the rural nature of this county forever.

    Make this a smart free zone, sign the Repeal SMART petition. It is very much in your interest.

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  15. Money Grubber says:

    Lets all begin talking about how “re-development” funds have routinely been diverted for years and years into government operations that had absolutely ZERO to do with “re-development.”

    Right now, bureaucrats in Sonoma Count and in the various cities are preparing their usual lies to try and manipulate the public into lamenting the loss of the “re-development” scams.

    Watch all the “non profit” operations which are handed our tax money by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors… in a very low profile, quiet manner… watch them start screaming tomorrow.

    First up: the “non profits” that take our “re-development” funding and pass it along into essentially FREE grants to help people buy “affordable” housing with OUR money.

    Can you say, Burbank Housing?

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  16. Somoma Sam says:

    How about Rob Dole donates his 21,000 a month pension to fix roads? It is not like he needs the money with YGRENE handling all those weird second mortgages for the PACE program he “fought” so hard for.

    THank goodness we have money for the train who could take up to 1400 riders to San Rafael each day. How much is that and it will be ready when?

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  17. The Fish Road says:

    Thanks Craig for your excellent article. I think once the winegrower and winery democratic contributors see the repair costs to equipment and sales fall off they will tell the supervisors to fix the roads. The unions and county workers will agree after a fundraiser to save the kitty kats. Our county supervisors are so far off the reality of serving the public and not themselves its often hard to believe. Yet the worse is yet to come. Local, school, county and taxes will rise to pay for illegal immigration and funded liabilities and services will deteriorate. We will be paying higher taxes for less and poor county services. This is not to mention decreasing property values,diminishing quality of life, over population and failing education system. If SMART continues the county is gone forever!Regrettably the supervisors don’t have the courage to recognize what is wrong nor the political will or intelligence to correct it.

    Thanks Clay and John for REPEAL SMART…NOW.

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  18. John T says:

    It’s interesting to hear the County say they cannot maintain the roads due to funding, while they are currently advertising for a PR person in Health & Human Services.

    Why does welfare need a PR person?

    The County can afford to maintain roads, they just need to get their priorities in order and makes some serious cuts in the bloated Human Services department.

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  19. bear says:

    If you build it, you must maintain it.

    All the SMART money would NOT fix the problem.

    Rural development, that profitted past landowners and developers, requires these roads to be maintained. The wine industry is going to insist on this.

    So all the whiners here ought to get ready to pay more taxes and fees.

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  20. Greg Karraker says:

    What an excellent piece of thinking and writing. It is truly amazing and infuriating to be at the center of a once-prosperous county that is hell-bent on dedeveloping itself into third-world status.

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  21. Social Dis-Ease says:

    To Jim:
    Actually, I know you’re being sarcastic, but with the energy/’greenhouse gas’ goals that our ‘public servants’ signed up with, complete with accountable time tables.
    ICLEI will be bringing us back to the the turn of the century.

    100% Agenda 21.
    100% tyranny.

    These ‘leaders’ better hope they picked the winning team, or have another gig to fall back on, ’cause people are waking up.
    Much will be brought to light this next year.

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  22. Mr. Harrison-

    Thank you for laying out this well written and fact filled piece on this transportation challenge that we are facing.

    I can’t help but think that the prioritization of current projects and funding choices needs a good hard look.

    Just one example that occupies a fair amount of real estate in my mind is the bailout money that SCTA has given to SMART- ($3M added to $11M already committed, totaling $14M).

    When you look at allocating dwindling resources to a project that is projected to serve potentially 900-1400 people per day, versus allocating those dollars to preserve our road network (that serves tens to hundreds of thousands per day), there is little comparison. It is clear where we get the most “bang for our buck”.

    I can just see it- as the shiny new train pulls into the station, the area right around the station is gleaming and new- the latest highly subsidized green building technology. And in all directions, dirt roads lead out into the county from an oasis of new. But hey- it’s the key to the future, right? This is what 21st Century transportation looks like! THEN people will want to live in the high density “sustainable” housing cloistered around the stations!

    Not only will delaying the needed road repairs increase the ultimate cost to re-surface the roads, but as the roads degrade, there will be mounting repair and maintenance costs for drivers (alignment, broken suspension, tire wear).

    This “opportunity cost” needs to be factored in- if we choose to continue with a brand new project like SMART, what will it cost us, or what are we giving up on the other hand?

    Thank you for being willing to advocate for a decidedly un-sexy cause that is absolutely crucial to our economic, social and recreational vitality. Citizens can no longer sit back and assume that these things will be taken care of. It is as important now as ever that citizens be engaged and involved in local government and local issues.

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  23. John Parnell says:

    This is a very good article, but it ignores one basic fact: Sonoma is losing its roads at the expense of the train. SCTA voted to bail out SMART with money that should be going to the roads.

    “Roads to dirt” for all, or a political folly trolley for a few – which does Sonoma want?

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  24. GAJ says:

    The long term impact of ignoring our basic infrastructure in favor of bloated and overpaid bureaucracy will not be pretty.

    What use is a Board of Supervisors who can’t even maintain critical infrastructure used by the vast majority of County residents and visitors?

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  25. Jim says:

    Forget maintaining the roads. With the environmental crazies running CA, it is only a matter of time until we are forced out of our cars and into horse-drawn carriages again because of the ever increasing CA gas tax. Carriages roll fine on dirt roads and the horses will prefer walking on dirt rather than asphalt or concrete.

    Looking forward to traveling back to the 1800′s!

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