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County road crews hustle to patch storm damage

Maintenance worker Norm Green with the Sonoma County Roads dept. shovels mud into a backhoe while clearing a drainage ditch and culvert on Bodega Ave. west of Sebastopol on Tuesday, December 11, 2012.

John Burgess/The Press Democrat
Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 4:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 8:34 a.m.

Sonoma County's disintegrating rural roads, notoriously known for potholes and poor drainage, got a quick patch job before a storm hit Tuesday night.

County road crews hustled to fill potholes and fix road damage that had become much worse following heavy pounding from three back-to-back storms in late November and early December.

Crews on Tuesday improved drainage and slide issues in a few rural areas. On Monday they'd worked on potholes, following a huge concerted pothole effort on Saturday.

Two new automated pothole-filling trucks due by January in Sonoma County can't come soon enough, said county road boss Tom O'Kane.

O'Kane took advantage of last weekend's sunshine and asked for volunteers to work overtime Saturday for a day of pothole filling.

He had as many as 30 employees hustling throughout the county in 12 trucks. They patched several hundred holes and took care of much of the latest damage.

“We put out almost 100 tons of asphalt on Saturday. One hundred tons is a very good day,” said O'Kane, who is Sonoma County's interim co-director of transportation and public works.

“We got quite a bit of work done but we've not caught up by any means,” said O'Kane.

Sonoma County, while known for its lush wine country and coastal vistas, is also know for its bad roads.

With almost 1,400 miles of roads, it's the largest county road network in the Bay Area — and also about the worst.

The county has ranked worst or second worst in the nine-county region for road conditions for several years, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Money to maintain roads comes from gas taxes. That hasn't kept up with needed road repairs, leading to deferred maintenance of about $120 million.

“In 2011 we did about 96,000 potholes. For a jurisdiction this size I would think 10,000 was too many,” said O'Kane.

Supervisors in 2010 decided, because of a lack of money, to let many rural roads deteriorate. A backlash by residents ensued.

In June, Sonoma County supervisors approved a one-year, $8 million increase in road funding, bringing the total set aside for road repair this fiscal year to $15.5 million.

Most of the newly added funds would go toward fixing 7.5 miles of roads that have been targeted as in urgent need of repair. They include West Dry Creek Road near Healdsburg, Westshore Road in Bodega Bay and Adobe Canyon Road off Highway 12.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane on Tuesday said the work will have to wait until Spring.

“You can't be doing major road repairs when you have a storm every three or four days,” she said. “Unfortunately, we are in pothole patching season.”

Supervisors also put money into new equipment toward solving the problem.

“We're anticipating the arrival of our two, self-contained patch trucks we ordered early in the spring,” O'Kane said.

With a total price of $390,000, the two trucks will have heated truck beds to keep asphalt pliable and a hopper to automatically plop the asphalt down into the hole, as well as other equipment to help make the repairs more permanent, O'Kane said.

Crews now shovel the asphalt out of the back of a truck. And as it cools, it hardens and by the end of the day the remainder has to be chipped out.

“It should speed the process and provide better coverage,” he said.

The county also is buying a new road striping truck for about $275,000. O'Kane said he hoped to see it in operation next summer.

The county hasn't had a comprehensive striping program for about four years. The new truck is expected to help get that restarted.

This year's pothole season got under way earlier in December when more than a foot of rain fell in some of the wettest county areas from the three back-to-back storms.

A damage estimate to the county's roads from the storms wasn't available Tuesday. O'Kane said that with the county's archaic computer system it could take four to six weeks to have that type of statistic available.

Tuesday night's storm was scheduled to be quick and cold, said meteorologist Diana Henderson of the National Weather Service.

Rainfall totals were expected to be fairly light, with about an inch or so at most through today, she said.

Skies should be dry Thursday and Friday. Rain is possible Saturday but it should be dry Sunday.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com.

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