(Editor's note: This is the second of two stories examining the condition of south county roads. Last week's story looked at the condition of roads in the city. This week's story focuses on county-maintained roads.)

The mission statement for Sonoma County's Transportation & Public Works Department states in part that it is committed, "to perform(ing) … maintenance of all roads…within the county road system and keep(ing them) open and safely passable for public use."

However, because of a $43 million gap in the county general fund, that mission goes largely unaccomplished. So much so that department head Phillip Demery earlier recommended abandoning almost 1,400 miles of county roads.

The Board of Supervisors, including David Rabbitt, was not supportive of Demery's proposal. (Efforts to reach Demery for comment were unsuccessful.) Rabbitt represents the south county district, which includes unincorporated Petaluma and Penngrove.

Which roads in his district are the "baddest" of the bad? To find out, the Argus-Courier asked readers to name names.

Spring Hill Road was the clear-cut "winner," according to several readers, including Shelley Medeiros, who has lived on the road for six years. The problem is compounded because her house is situated at a sharp turn.

"Twice we've had drivers either hit a pothole or swerve to avoid hitting one and they crashed into our property," she said. "One came close to hitting a power pole. We asked the county for a guardrail or something. They put in reflectors."

Medeiros said the reflectors did not prevent another car from crashing onto her property shortly afterward.

At least three times during a "test drive" along the punishing 9.1-mile route, this reporter found it necessary to either straddle the yellow center lines or drive in the wrong lane, British style, to avoid potholes that were both wide and deep, and chunks of broken asphalt, some piled a foot high.

Cars and trucks aren't the only vehicles at risk. "A lot of cyclists I know have had bent wheels and busted tires on that road and make a point of avoiding it, taking Bodega Avenue instead," said D.J. Campagna of Mike's Bikes.

"Spring Hill is in horrible shape," Rabbitt agreed. "It was a segment which was slated to be abandoned" along with another 11 or so miles in the district, he said.

Spring Hill wasn't the only road to get a thumbs-down. Janis Couvreux wrote, "We live on Purrington Road, boxed in by I Street and Mountain View. We've been here for 16 years and not once has it been re-paved, but rather it is patched once or twice a year every time the rains start. It is a pain to drive and to ride my bike."

Couvreux owns a 2003 Subaru Forrester SUV, and added, "I'd probably do better with an all-terrain vehicle. I've had to change shocks, struts and tie rods. I don't know if our road was the cause or not, but I'm sure it didn't help."

At the hilly intersection of Mountain View Avenue and Purrington Road is a sign that ironically reads, "End County Maintained Road." Beyond the sign is a private road that appears to be smooth and rut-free.

The Board of Supervisors will meet on Aug. 23, when the Public Works Department will propose increasing the "Priority Road Network" to 156.8 miles from 150 miles. Road segments could be privatized, or classified as long private driveways and the like. In the fall, Public Works will return for more discussion on the available financial options for a more comprehensive road program.

One option could be to divert the present $3.5 million spent on roadside vegetation control to actual pavement preservation. If an alternative funding source is found for the vegetation control, it will allow the county to increase the Priority Road Network beyond the 156.8 miles.

"Historically, transportation funding has been provided by gas tax allocations," Rabbitt explained. "Federal gas tax dollars were primarily responsible for the Pavement Preservation Program which extends the life of our priority roads. State gas taxes are the primary source of funds for corrective safety." But Rabbitt says that the distribution of these taxes is biased in favor of large urban areas.

For instance, Alameda County receives twice the revenue Sonoma County does for maintaining one-third of the number of lane-miles, while Contra Costa gets 60 percent more for maintaining 50 percent fewer miles, the supervisor noted. Sonoma County, with a population of slightly less than 500,000 people, has 1,387 miles of roads and 330 bridges.

"I don't think there is the political will to address the funding formula disparity, but we are actively moving forward with a plan of action," Rabbitt said. "It may not be fully funded, but at least we'll have a blueprint on what we need to improve our network of roads and infrastructure."

(Contact Bob Canning at argus@arguscourier.com)