Road Weary

Local agency balks at helping fix our streets

By Rich Desmond
August 2023

Sacramento County, with around 1.5 million people, is the largest county belonging to the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. Others in the group are El Dorado, Placer, Sutter, Yuba and Yolo. Cities within the counties are also members.

SACOG plays a central role in funding transportation infrastructure. We rely on it for financing. But this year, SACOG didn’t fund any of Sacramento County’s paving requests despite our size and the fact our unincorporated area has a large urban population with some of the worst roads in the state.

Why? I can only conclude our priorities clash with those of SACOG.

Sac County wants to fix our roads first. We face an $850 million maintenance backlog. SACOG, on the other hand, prioritizes alternate modes of transportation such as bike lanes, road diets (reducing vehicle lanes) and transit.
It’s a conflict that need not exist.

Paving roads is in everyone’s interest. Motorists along with bicyclists and bus riders enjoy smooth pavement. Everyone hates potholes.

There’s also an issue of fairness. Sacramento County amounts to around 80% of SACOG’s population. SACOG funding doesn’t come close to reflecting that.

The allocation to our county in the latest funding cycle (including what cities receive) only amounts to about 66% of the competitive funding that flows through SACOG.

SACOG prefers projects that aren’t easily adaptable to the unincorporated area. First, our road infrastructure is old. Second, many of the streets aren’t wide enough to accommodate the latest designs of dedicated interior bike lanes separated by an exterior parking lane, such as J Street.

SACOG’s reluctance to fund good, old fashioned paving projects makes it more challenging for Sac County to reduce our maintenance backlog.

Each year, our Department of Transportation uses approximately $30 million directly from Senate Bill 1 gas tax revenues. When SB 1 went to the governor’s desk in 2017, voters were told funds from the legislation would go first to fixing roads. Sacramento County kept that promise—and more.

Since joining the Board of Supervisors in 2021, I’ve pushed to have monies allocated from the general fund to supplement road maintenance. Before that change occurred, SacDOT relied almost exclusively on gas taxes and transportation grant funding.

By prioritizing our roads, Sac County spends about $70 million from a combination of general fund, SB 1 and federal dollars provided under the American Rescue Plan Act. That effort helps us to slightly improve pavement conditions.

With 2,214 miles of roadway to maintain in varied degrees of degradation, the funding doesn’t meet our needs. That’s why I’m disappointed SACOG won’t support paving.

But I’m not willing to let SACOG go unchallenged. I’m working with SACOG leadership and other county and city representatives to change the policy bias against paving projects and make funding allocations more proportional to population.

While I hope to reverse SACOG’s attitude about paving our streets, please be assured SacDOT continues to respond and repair potholes through your reports to 311.

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

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