Santa Rosa Press Democrat, January 17, 2017
By Derek Moore

Sonoma County road crews have been scrambling this week to patch potholes and make other repairs ahead of more storms expected to arrive today, while delaying the longer-term fixes likely to further strain the county’s road maintenance budget.

The county’s 1,384-mile network of roads and state highways has been ravaged by last week’s storms.

About a half dozen county roads — most in areas west of Highway 101 — remained fully or partially closed Tuesday from flooding or slides. The heavy rainfall also ripped open new potholes or made existing ones larger, including on Todd Road between Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, according to one business owner.

“Every customer says, ‘Your road is so bad it’s like a war zone,’” said Michail Koutsouradis, who owns BNC Auto Care on East Todd Road.

Susan Klassen, the county’s transportation and public works director, said Tuesday crews were filling potholes as quickly as they could ahead of more storms scheduled to arrive late today. But she conceded these are only temporary patches.

“It’s making it driveable, but it’s not a permanent fix by any means,” Klassen said.

Long term, the county will have to contend with how to fix and pay for the most seriously damaged roads, like along Cazadero Highway west of Guerneville, where a roughly 150-foot stretch of roadway collapsed during last week’s storms.

At the site Tuesday, Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman marveled at how the roadway along with about 10 redwoods and a mailbox along the shoulder appeared to drop about 6 feet.

More concerning to the veteran fire official was the amount of water still streaming down the hillside and beneath the roadway into Austin Creek, which skirts the two-lane road. The ground remains saturated nearly a week after the last in a series of rainstorms pounded Sonoma County. And there’s more rain on the way, with forecasts calling for as much as 5 inches to fall in Sonoma County through Sunday.

“What will be interesting is to see what comes apart next,” Baxman said.

Officials said it could be months before they devise a plan to repair Cazadero Highway, the main link from Highway 116 to the hamlet of about 400 residents.

For now, crews have erected temporary railing and installed one-lane traffic control to keep traffic moving.

The status of the redwoods is unclear. Crews topped the approximately 100-foot-tall trees due to concerns they might topple onto power and communications lines, or across the street onto a facility used by Frontier Communications, which offers phone and internet service to local residents.

“I’d take them down another 6 feet to make sure it will clear everything,” Bob Rust, a contract technician for Frontier, said Tuesday while gazing at the shortened redwoods.

Rust said the tree work was done under Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s direction. A spokeswoman for the utility could not immediately confirm that Tuesday.

A county spokeswoman over the weekend said countywide road damages related to the storms was estimated to be $7.1 million. However, Klassen on Tuesday said officials are still assessing road damages and could not confirm a total, other than to say it will exceed $1 million.

The county could seek state disaster relief funds to help cover the cost of road repairs. Those repairs are on top of the county’s longstanding efforts to maintain and improve road conditions.

County supervisors authorized spending $11.6 million this fiscal year on road preservation. That amount is roughly half the previous year’s allocation — which included a surge of one-time funds — and remains well short of what Klassen projects is needed in coming years to bring county roads up from their current poor rating.

Klassen previously pegged the total price tag needed to upgrade the county’s network to “very good” condition by 2025 at $56 million per year.