Answered Questions

Most of these facts come from the documents on this website: 2008 Road Ahead Report, 2011-12 County Budget, and the County Agenda Item Summary Report October 25, 2011 from the Dept. of Transportation and Public Works. Other information is derived from conversations with county road officials.

The reasons for our failing roads are many, ranging from reduction in funds from state and federal sources (mostly from gas taxes which are declining with the reduction in consumption of fuel), inflation of material costs like asphalt, higher labor and benefits costs and increasing compliance costs for ADA and environmental regulations.

The County’s general fund contribution to road maintenance has been reduced by 50 percent since 2008 and has had its staffing cut by 46 percent. The consequences of these cut are reflected in the quality of our roads.

Also cited as a reason is Sonoma County’s urban/rural characteristics, including a high number of road miles for a smaller population. This has the County at a disadvantage because road funding from federal and state transportation sources favor denser populations in urban areas.

It is SOSroads.org’s opinion that roads have also deteriorated because the supervisors over the years have kicked the can down the road by deferring pavement preservation maintenance. The result of not putting a priority on preserving our roads is that they will cost 10-15 times more to rebuild them than what pavement preservation would have cost.

Only 1 penny of every dollar in property taxes collected in Sonoma County goes to support roads. Of that one penny, only about 1/3 is devoted to pavement repair or preservation. The other 2/3 of the penny goes to vegetation management, signs/signals, bridges, storm response and liability insurance.

Most property tax revenue (about 52%) goes to schools. Cities receive about 11% and special and redevelopment districts get 9%. The remaining 28% goes to the county general fund amounting to about $178 million (in 2008). In 2008 the Supervisors allocated $7.8 million of the general fund to roads. This year they allocated only $4.2 million to road maintenance, a 46% cut in road funding from the county general fund, while county property tax revenue climbed to $190.9 million in 2011-12, a 7.25% increase in property tax revenue.

The question that the Supervisors need to answer is: How come road funding is not a higher priority in the county budget? What other county services are more important that road funding?
 

Since 2008 the Supervisors have cut back on pavement preservation funding for roads. Federal funds can be spent only on 356 miles of county roads and need 11 percent local matching dollars. State transportation funds that could be used for pavement preservation have been cut.

Since over 50 percent of these roads are considered near or at the end of their useful life, by default the Supervisors are allowing roads to continue to deteriorate. At some point, the pavement cannot be patched and it will have to be removed and the road converted to gravel.

If this happens, the impact will be far ranging on Sonoma County residents. Property values could decline, businesses depending on tourism could suffer (think wineries, hotels, restaurants), emergency services could be impacted and quality of life will be diminished.

 

Since 2006 the Supervisors have allocated 32 percent less from the general fund for corrective maintenance (filling potholes); Measure M revenues (the local sales tax for roads, transit, bikeways, etc.) have dropped by 16 percent; and the state gas tax has remained flat while costs have gone up. Consequently, the county staffing for road workers has been reduced steadily since 2007. With the accelerating deterioration of many roads the county has not been able to keep up with the increasing number of potholes with fewer workers.

Additionally, when we have severe storms county crews are busy responding to storm damage and have less time to devote to potholes.

The severity and number of potholes are going to dramatically increase as more roads begin to fail. As this point, filled potholes will often become potholes again with the next significant rainfall.
 

When the Supervisors reduced the county budget the number of road maintenance workers has been substantially reduced. With over 50 percent of non-primary roads in a failing condition, maintenance workers are not able to keep up with filling potholes. When working a section of road they sometimes just fill the potholes in the tire tracks and leave the holes near the centerline unfilled in order to cover more miles of road.

As these roads continue to deteriorate, at some point, they will not be fixable. Rather than constantly filling more and more potholes, the County Department of Transportation and Public Works has indicated that they only alternative will be to grind up the asphalt and turn these roads intro gravel.
 

Among the options that the supervisors are considering is to formally abandon 105 miles of low volume roads with alternate access and 109 miles of dead end roads. The Supervisors have not decided to abandon any roads unless the owners agree with this change. The county must go through a formal legal process to abandon maintenance of any county road.

  • Join SOSRoads.
  • Read the information on SOSroads.org to educate yourself on the facts about the condition of our roads and how we pay for roads.
  • Call your supervisor.
  • Write your supervisor.
  • Call the Roads Department to report potholes. 565-5100
  • Attend future SOSroads.org Roads Summits. If you have joined SOSroads.org or signed up for the newsletter, you will get an email letting you know when the next one is scheduled
  • Start a Road Forum for your neighborhood. You need to join SOSroads.org to post to the Roads Forum. 
  • Put up “Fix our Road -- Go to SOSroads.org” signs in your neighborhood.  See our Contact Us page.
  • Become a volunteer for SOSroads.org. See our Volunteer page

The city streets and roads in Sonoma County are ranked 8th worst out of 58 counties in California. The reasons given by county officials, in addition to the overall reduction of federal and state funding sources, is that Sonoma County has a higher ratio of miles of roads to population than most other counties.

They also state that 38% of Sonoma County roads were originally dirt roads that were converted to asphalt without a proper base structure to support modern traffic. SOSroads.org believes that another reason is because the Supervisors have not made funding roads a priority.

Most of the 2010-2011 budget of $20 million (approximately 72 percent) comes from federal and state sources, mainly taxes on fuel. The Supervisors contribute $4.2 million from the general fund. As recently as 2008, the Supervisors were contributing over $7 million for road maintenance.

Filling potholes (corrective maintenance) represents only 10-15 percent of maintenance spending. Pavement preservation (chip seal, resurfacing etc.) takes 25-50 percent, with the remainder going to storm response, vegetation management, drainage, stream management, traffic lights and signs and compliance efforts (e.g. Americans With Disabilities Act).
 

The county estimates it will cost $15 million per year for the 356 miles of county roads (most of the primary arterial roads) eligible for federal gas tax funds. Currently the county is preserving the pavement on only 219 miles.

It is not conducting any preservation work on the remaining 1,163 miles. More than half of these miles are considered in a failing condition and the county has no plans or funds to rebuild them.

The estimated yearly cost to do pavement preservation on roads not eligible for federal funding is $105 million per year. However since they are failing, the costs could be 10 times higher to be rebuilt. This is substantially more than the county’s unfunded pension liabilities.

The Board of Supervisors established a Priority Road Network in October 2010. The network consists of 150 miles (recently increased to 218 miles) of roads to receive preventative maintenance which includes resurfacing with chip seal or repaving of roads that are deteriorating.

The roads to be included in the Priority Network have to be federally eligible roads (arterials and major collectors), have high traffic volumes and be of regional significance.  An example of this is the resurfacing of Adobe Road from Penngrove to Corona Rd. 

This policy means that the remaining 1,164 miles of county roads will only be maintained by filling potholes. Approximately 50% of these roads are at or near the end of their useful life. The county road department has advised the Board of Supervisors that this policy will result in costs to rebuild the roads that will be 10-15 times greater than if preventative maintenance techniques were used. 

At some point, perhaps in the next 5 years, roads with numerous potholes will not be able to be patched and will have to be converted to gravel.
 

For the 2011-12 fiscal year the Board of Supervisors budgeted $22.6 million for road maintenance and $13.4 million for capital projects: bridge and road rebuilding, bridge seismic work, traffic signals, and Americans With Disabilities Act work.

$4.2 million comes from the county general fund; $3.7 for road maintenance and $.5 million for storm water protection. The other $18.4 million comes from federal and state funds, mainly taxes on fuel.

It is interesting to note that the County spends $1.1 million per year on liability insurance for the roads or nearly one-third of the County’s general fund contribution for road maintenance.

To maintain all county roads to an acceptable standard, the County needs to spend $115 million vs $22.6 million currently budgeted, or about 5 times as much as now budgeted.

The underfunding means continued deterioration of our roads, more and bigger potholes, disintegrating pavement and escalating decline of one of the county’s most important and valuable assets.
 

 

Nearly all of the ongoing funding for roads comes from federal and state taxes on fuel. The federal government levies an 18.4 cent per gallon tax on gasoline (24.4 cents for diesel). These funds can only be used on new projects or improvements and not on routine maintenance costs. Additionally they can only be used on higher volume arterial and collector roads.

Road funding from the state primarily comes from an excise fuel tax of 18 cents per gallon and the state sales tax on fuel. However, only 3 cents of the state fuel excise tax is sent directly to counties, based on each county’s share of registered vehicles and road mileage. 

Since Sonoma County has a very high ratio of road miles to registered vehicles the county is allocated less dollars for more miles of road to maintain than many of other counties. 

Because of federal and state funding bias to the more urban and densely populated areas, Sonoma County is more dependent on local funding for roads. These funding sources include Measure M ¼ cent sales tax, traffic mitigation fees, developer donations, grants and the county general fund. The latter accounts for 15-20% of all road funding and represents the most significant portion of road maintenance funds that can be used on all county roads.
 

Since 2004 and through 2010, nearly $100 million has been collected through the local 1/4 percent sales tax. Approximately 20 percent of these funds have been used for local street rehabilitation in cities and the county.

40 percent of the funds have been devoted to Highway 101 widening providing the matching local funds to acquire federal/state highway funds.

Local street projects get another 20 percent with the remaining ten percent split between SMART train, bicycle projects and administration.
 

Good question. Ask your supervisor whether they will do better delivering electricity than drivable roads.

The MTC is a regional planning and funding agency in the Bay Area for nine Bay Area counties, including Sonoma County. MTC serves as the Bay Area's regional transportation planning agency which allocates state transportation funds as well the region's metropolitan planning organization which allocates federal transportation funds. The MTC is focused on the needs of urban areas and only one of its 19 commissioners reside in Sonoma County. 

Yes. The Board of Supervisors has written a letter to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) protesting the funding formulas proposed in the One Bay Area plan. 

The proposal would distribute 70% of Federal Surface Transportation Funds (STP) designated for the 9-county Bay Area to transportation activities with designated Priority Development Areas (PDAs). PDAs represent densely populated urban areas and only 5% of Sonoma County land area would qualify. 

If the proposal is approved by the MTC, the best financial scenario for unincorporated Sonoma County roads is that federal funding used for pavement preservation would be reduced by 67% on the 356 miles of roads that qualify for federal funds. 

This information was contained in the Agenda Item Summary Report to the Board of Supervisors on 10/25/11. 

Residents in areas where the Board of Supervisors has not allocated money to preserve the pavement might be able to establish special road maintenance districts (tax assessment districts). Under this approach the residents would essentially pay increased property taxes to pay for the proper maintenance of the county roads that serve their homes.

A 2/3 vote of the owners affected parcels are required to approve an assessment. If the owners approve, all residents affected (including those who voted against the measure) would be assessed to improve the roads. Identifying which parcels would be affected will in many cases be ambiguous.
 

The formulas that allocate state and federal transportation funds generally provide more funds to cities than to counties.

Funding formulas are based on the number of registered vehicles, favoring cities that have a high ratio of cars to miles of roads. Thus there are fewer dollars per mile of road for maintaining the 1,382 miles of county roads. The Board of Supervisors has reduced funding for road maintenance from the general fund by 42% over the last four years. 

Additionally, recent development within city boundaries in the last 30 years means that city streets are relatively younger than county roads and constructed to modern road standards, unlike many rural county roads.