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Sonoma County Roads Crumble under Budget Cuts


Funding Shrinks over Two Decades

by Craig S. Harrison and Michael Troy

Between 1988 and 2007 the Board of Supervisors allocated $7.5 million from the general fund for road maintenance every year.

While it appears the Supervisors have consistently funded roads for nearly two decades, county funding for road maintenance has actually been cut by nearly 70 percent, after adjusting for inflation during this period.

The attached graph provides a vivid image of why many of Sonoma County’s 1,387 miles of county roads are crumbling (Figure 1 above).

Under current county policies, more than 1,000 miles of county roads are destined to become gravel instead of paved roads.

To return to the levels of 1988 road maintenance, county funding would have to be increased to approximately $15 million from the $4.3 million currently allocated by the Supervisors.

Instead, Sonoma County has made even deeper cuts in general fund contributions reducing the road maintenance budget 42 percent since the housing bust in 2007.

Deferred maintenance has come at a steep cost. Years of decreasing funding for roads has resulted in a huge liability almost as large as the unfunded pension liability for the county.

The Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTPW) estimates 600 miles of collector roads and 222 miles of residential roads are at the end of their functional life, which represents 60 percent of all county roads. The cost to rebuild these 822 miles is estimated to be over $685 million (in 2008 dollars).1 Rebuilding roads costs 10 to 15 times more than pavement preservation maintenance according to the DTPW.2

Sonoma County Road Budget

Prospects for changing the decline of roads only gets bleaker. The county is looking at additional cuts in the general fund budget as property tax and sales tax revenues continue to shrink. Federal and state gas tax revenues remain flat as each dollar buys fewer road improvements. It may even get worse when the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) changes its formula for allocating federal and state money to favor the most densely populated regions. The county has estimated that this could reduce the average $10-12 million in federal and state funds by 75 percent.

The question now is how the Supervisors plan to reverse the decline of our county roads and from where the money will come. Will they make roads a priority?

Inflation-Adjusted Graph

This graph shows Sonoma County general funds allocated to the maintenance of county roads for each of the 23 fiscal years since 1988-89 (Table 1). It converts the funding for each year into 2011 dollars based upon the federal Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI is a conservative estimate since the cost of construction has suffered even greater inflationary impacts than other aspects of our economy due to the fact that materials such as asphalt have escalated much more than the CPI .

Making roads a priority…

Save Our Sonoma Roads

P.O. BOX 266


Craig S. Harrison

Michael Troy