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A newly formed citizens' group admits it doesn't know how to fix the county's deteriorating road conditions, but says it aims to bring public attention to finding solutions.

"Our main purpose is to educate people about why the roads are the way they are," said one of the group's founders, Penngrove resident Michael Troy. "We hope to influence the supervisors to make roads a priority."

Calling itself Save Our Sonoma Roads (SOSRoads) the organization focuses on county-maintained roads in unincorporated Sonoma County.

Officials blame lack of money for the inability to maintain the county's 1,382 miles of local roads in good condition. These roads have received the third lowest Pavement Condition Index (PCI) rating in the Bay Area, a score of 45 out of 100 points. They are classified as "poor," just one step above the lowest category, "failed."

Last year Sonoma County Transportation and Public Works Director Phillip Demery said his department could only afford to maintain 155.9 miles of high priority roads and only perform emergency repair for public safety on the rest. In a telephone interview this week he said he plans to go before county supervisors Feb. 7 to add 40 more miles of roadway to the priority list.

"The idea is to continue to expand those miles," he said.

According to Demery, the "bread and butter" for all county transportation funding is state gas tax revenues, and that funding "has lost its purchasing power over the years."

Indeed, state gas tax has remained at 18 cents per gallon since 1994, while the cost of repairing and maintaining roads has increased enormously, according to John Goodwin, public information officer for the regional Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).

Which leaves counties and cities scrambling to find other revenues to supplement the gas taxes.

As a result, Sonoma County has been forced to cut its road repair budget during the current recession. According to a graph prepared by SOSRoads, the county budget for road maintenance, adjusted for inflation, has decreased from $7.8 million in 2008/2009 to $4.3 million in 2011/2012.

Troy, the former CEO of Petaluma software manufacturer, Knowledge Point, said these dwindling resources leave too many local roads unsafe and difficult to navigate.

So, last year, his wife got together with one of their Lichau Road neighbors and posted a banner that said, "Save Lichau Road." When Bennett Valley Community Association President Craig Harrison saw the sign he contacted Troy and said, "Let's talk."

In August they created SOSRoads with a handful of other county residents, and have attracted about 50 members. The group has created a series of signs that say, "Tired of potholes? Contact SOSRoads." Next month it plans to host a Road Summit – featuring Demery – to "talk about the future of Sonoma County Roads."

"Roads require constant maintenance — preventative maintenance — if they are not to fail. It costs 10 to 15 times as much to rebuild them as it does to fix them," Troy said.

One possible solution Demery plans to propose to county supervisors Feb. 7 is the creation of Road Maintenance Districts in the unincorporated county, which could tax themselves to fund road repair.

"Of course the districts have to be large enough to provide economy of scale," Demrey said, meaning each district would have to include a big enough population to make a road tax feasible and affordable.

Goodwin suggested other road tax possibilities. Municipalities — cities or counties — could pass road repair taxes, or the entire MTC region could pass a sales tax for road maintenance.

Surveys have indicated that a Bay Area-wide tax "would get killed, crushed," Goodwin said. But, on a smaller scale some municipalities have done well with a road repair tax. El Cerrito passed a half-cent sales tax for roads in 2008 and its PCI rating has gone from "poor" to "very good."

Meanwhile, Troy is convinced that the county is not doing everything it can to keep its vast network of local roads intact.

"We know there are not any easy answers," Troy said. "But we are asking the supervisors to take leadership to find solutions. What is the responsibility of the county to maintain our transportation infrastructure? If this were a wastewater pipe, would they be cutting the funding?"

For more information about the March 7 Road Summit visit www.SOS Roads.org.

(Contact Lois Pearlman at argus@arguscourier.com)