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Report: Petaluma pavement rated poor

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While many cities in the Bay Area have made marginal progress in improving road conditions, Petaluma remained among the worst in the region’s nine counties, according to a new report from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Published last week, “The Pothole Report: Bay Area Roads at Risk” declared Petaluma’s streets as the second-worst out of 101 municipalities. Based on a three-year average, which has been the same since 2014, the city’s pavement condition index, or PCI, scored 46 out of a possible 100. The worst city was Larkspur in Marin County at 42.

Under the rating, roads in the “poor” range are described by the report as having extensive amounts of distress and require major rehabilitation, affecting the speed and flow of traffic significantly.

“Citizens of Petaluma, this is not good,” said Dan St. John, the city’s director of Public Works and Utilities. “We should not be in the bottom. It’s purely a matter of funding.”

For decades, the commission has been announcing PCI scores annually, compiling data from software each city is given access to, said MTC spokesman John Goodwin. The program analyzes the information that’s provided, and offers city officials with strategies for optimal pavement management.

A municipality’s PCI is determined by a host of factors, including the size of the road network, the age of the pavement, climate and precipitation, traffic loads and available maintenance funding.

“The big killer is precipitation,” Goodwin said. “Time plus wear plus water – all of those things work against pavement quality.”

The MTC report, the commission’s third since 2000, arrives as California residents continue to mull over the merits of Proposition 6, which would repeal the state gas tax increase known as SB 1. Opponents of the ballot measure warn a repeal would eliminate vital revenue for road-related projects, while proponents point to a drop in gas prices as a welcome change.

Under SB 1, which was passed by the state legislature in 2017 and included the first tax increase on gasoline since 1994, road repair funding across the Bay Area has nearly doubled, jumping from an estimated $250 million in 2016-17 to $495 million in 2018-19, according to the report.

Petaluma was able to capitalize on the new revenue stream with a $1.1 million pavement project this summer, giving a facelift to 21 different streets.

If the gas tax is not repealed, Petaluma officials are projecting an increase in annual revenue, averaging $1.6 million. St. John said the city is hoping to address issues on arterial streets like Sonoma Mountain Parkway and McDowell Boulevard next year.

If the repeal is successful, though, St. John said Petaluma’s $171 million backlog of reconstruction projects will rise to $290 million over the next 20 years, and funding for pavement restoration will be cut in half, reduced to maintenance projects like filling potholes.

“There are numerous different (revenue) streams that flow into a public works department’s pavement management account, but the backbone of every municipality is the state gas tax,” Goodwin said.

“The Pothole Report” highlighted the efforts of El Cerrito, which slashed its backlog by 95 percent and nearly doubled its PCI in less than five years thanks to a half-cent sales tax increase in 2008 dedicated solely for street improvements.

Petaluma officials have discussed similar measures in the past, and road repairs have been a popular talking point for most of the candidates seeking citywide office this November. St. John said he’s encouraged by the ongoing discussion on the campaign trail, but believes it will require formal action if the community wants to make legitimate progress on improving its streets.

“That’s about the only tool we have,” he said.

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)