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Potholes & Pavements

County pumps up investments in road repairs

By Rich Desmond
September 2022

There’s no way to sugarcoat the horrible condition of our roads in the unincorporated area. When I discuss potholes and crumbling pavements with fellow residents, the conversation usually ends with an expletive.

Paying for road maintenance is complicated. Engineers at Sacramento County Department of Transportation often function like accountants to secure every available dollar for our roads.

In a nutshell, the department uses approximately $20 million each year from the Senate Bill 1 gas tax, approved by voters in 2018. The measure requires annual valuations by state authorities to determine adjustments in the gas tax. The most recent change occurred in July, with an increase of 2.8 cents. Current tax is 53.9 cents per gallon.

For years, it was standard practice for SacDOT to rely on gas taxes and transportation grants. Since joining the Board of Supervisors last year, I’ve pushed to have monies allocated from the general fund to supplement road maintenance.

Last year, the board allocated $22.5 million from the general fund. This year, we allocated another $20 million for road maintenance. Adding to SacDOT’s traditional revenue shows the board recognizes the deterioration of our roads can’t be ignored.

In addition, the board recently allocated another $20 million for road maintenance in disadvantaged communities. This was federal money distributed for pandemic recovery. With supervisors allocating $20 million from the general fund, $20 million from the feds and $20 million from SB 1, we produced $60 million for pavement maintenance this year.

SacDOT is aggressive in securing grant funds from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. In the last funding round, Sacramento County was awarded approximately $16 million for pavement rehabilitation and modernization.

Here’s the bad news: Sacramento County faces a road maintenance backlog of nearly $850 million.

Every few years, SacDOT performs a road assessment. Streets are rated using a Pavement Condition Index, a scale between 0 and 100. Ratings of 85 or above are excellent or almost new. A rating of 49 or below is poor. The county average is 48.

With 2,214 miles of roadway to maintain in the county, SB 1 doesn’t meet our needs. Although there’s a significant effort to obtain as much funding as possible for roadway maintenance, one-time sources are not always available. We need consistent dollars to maintain our roadways.

I’m always asked how streets and roads are chosen to be paved. Due to limited funds, projects are prioritized with several measurements, including the rating system I described, coordination with other projects (such as water main replacement), estimated costs related to available funds and history.

Although there’s not enough money to pave every degraded street, SacDOT responds to your reports on 311 and repairs potholes by monitoring pavements across the county.

The most recent funds we cobbled together for road maintenance in Sacramento County reminds me of what Winston Churchill said in 1942 following a series of British victories in North Africa after so many failures: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

This is where we are today as we invest unprecedented dollars for road maintenance.

Rich Desmond represents the Third District on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. He can be reached at richdesmond@saccounty.gov. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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