County roads in the Petaluma area are in "fair to poor" condition in relation to others in Sonoma County, but the prospects for repairs in the near future are not promising, says a Sonoma County official.

"It doesn't look good at all for county roads," said Tom O'Kane, deputy director of the county's Transportation and Public Works Department. "Part of the federal government's economic stimulus package has been used to create jobs throughout the county, and we have been using it to pay for some big chip-sealing projects on main roads.

"We might also get a small injection of funds in the fall, but what we would get is pretty minor in comparison to what our needs are."

While the chip-sealing work often helps, more substantial repairs are needed in some situations, and minor roads don't qualify for such federal assistance.

"In many cases, we haven't been able to fix the base or provide the structural support needed," O'Kane said.

Many potholes recently have been patched, but he says that some "are beyond ordinary maintenance: They require a construction operation."

One of the recently completed chip-sealing projects was on Adobe Road, near East Washington Street in Petaluma.

"That project should have been done years ago, but it was abandoned by the county Board of Supervisors in response to citizens' complaints that it would result in more traffic in the area. The traffic came, anyway," he said.

O'Kane noted two other recent projects in the Petaluma area.

"We did a project on Petaluma Hill Road late last summer, and have begun a bike project on Western Avenue, from the city limits to Chileno Avenue. We will be paving the road, but the main purpose is to provide adequate bike facilities," he said.

Also, the portion of Old Redwood Highway in Penngrove that connects it to Petaluma recently was named by Press Democrat readers as the second worst county road. O'Kane referred questions about it to the county's pavement preservation manager, Steve Urbanek, but he was not available for comment.

During the past two years, the Transportation and Public Works Department has been hit by funding and employee losses.

"The gas tax, our primary source of revenue, has remained the same since in California since the 1990s, even though costs have risen. We had about 200 people working in the department about 1 1/2 years ago, and now we have 55 less," he said.

The department is responsible for maintaining 1,382 miles of county roads.

"The rule of thumb is to have one field operation worker per every eight to 10 miles, but we have one for every 33 miles," he said.

Meanwhile, the Transportation and Public Works Department is swamped with calls for road repairs.

"We try to focus on roads that have the highest usage rate," O'Kane said.

Despite frequent complaints about roads and requests for service, O'Kane says that many Sonoma County residents, in general, recently have become more appreciative of the department's predicament.

"The public is beginning to understand that budget cuts have had an extremely detrimental effect on services, and that our public services have been among the hardest hit," he said.

(Contact Dan Johnson at dan.johnson@arguscourier.com)