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Sonoma County supervisors back $28 million, two-year road repair plan

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Sonoma County has agreed to repair about 82 additional miles of pavement over the next two years, a $28 million outlay for road upkeep that, once completed, will mean the county has given a facelift to more than a quarter of its huge and long-neglected road network since 2012.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously signed off on the project this week, heralding the investment as a sign of its continued commitment to rehabilitating the unincorporated county’s 1,380 miles of road, which had badly deteriorated before supervisors began to increase spending five years ago amid public outcry.

Since then, county officials have authorized spending $91  million on pavement projects spanning almost 400  miles, including the new two-year allocation Tuesday.

“This is a huge deal,” said Supervisor James Gore. “We have a lot to do, but this is a chance for our communities to celebrate that we are actually, finally making strides that can be seen on the ground.”

Among the 82 miles up for improvement over the next two fiscal years, about 25 miles cover roads badly damaged during last winter’s historically wet weather. The storm-damaged roads will cost $8 million to repair, according to the county.

The proposed repair list includes sections of Guerneville Road, Todd Road and Old Redwood Highway outside Santa Rosa, as well as parts of Arnold Drive in the Sonoma Valley, Armstrong Woods Road in Guerneville and Alexander Valley Road outside Healdsburg.

The selection drew praise from Craig Harrison, co-founder of the advocacy group Save Our Sonoma Roads, which has pressed supervisors to spend more on the area’s ailing road system in recent years.

“We think this is a great list of deserving roads,” Harrison told supervisors.

The pavement condition on Sonoma County roads has historically ranked among the worst in the Bay Area, a point reemphasized in data released this week by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. According to the agency’s annual regional road scoring, the pavement condition index in unincorporated Sonoma County last year was the poorest of all nine Bay Area counties, while the city of Petaluma’s poor pavement was outdone only by Larkspur in Marin County — the same results as the year before.

Road repairs in the two-year program are expected to cost the county $10.6  million this fiscal year and about $17.5 million next fiscal year. Those figures include dollars expected from new gas tax revenue authorized by Senate Bill 1, the landmark transportation measure signed into law earlier this year.

The county anticipates using $1.9 million in revenue tied to the transportation measure during the current fiscal year and $5 million next year. But those plans could be complicated if opponents of the new state taxes succeed in their efforts to repeal them at the ballot box in 2018.

“The uncertainty of that fills me with dread,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin said.

At the same time, local officials are mulling the future of Measure M, a quarter-cent sales tax county voters approved in 2004 to fund transportation projects. The measure doesn’t expire until 2024 but an extension will likely appear on the ballot next year, when voters could be asked to either continue the tax in its current form or increase it.

Regardless, the county has already made strides in its effort to improve the quality of its unincorporated roads, officials say. Including state and federal dollars, the amount of money spent to improve Sonoma County roads since 2013 totals about $112  million, according to Susan Klassen, the county’s transportation and public works director who’s set to retire next month.

“That’s just astounding,” Klassen said.

And with the investment authorized by supervisors this week, the county’s pavement projects will by 2019 have covered 384 miles since 2013.

“People are starting to see the difference,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, who has focused on transportation work in his two terms on the board. “We’re starting to get some pats on the back instead of kicks in the shins, which is nice. But it doesn’t mean that we let up. We need to keep going.”