County: Not enough money to repair all roads

Dear Street Smarts, Q: The two-mile section of Vine Hill Road from Highway 17 to Mountain View Road, also, Mountain View up to Old San Jose Soquel Road is in desperate need of re-paving. I have driven these roads for almost 25 years and they are getting really bad. The county's solution seems to be to install permanent signs that say "Rough Road". What portion of our property taxes goes for maintaining our roads? These two sections of roads are used heavily as alternative routes when there are accidents on Highway 17. Several years ago, we had a large section of Vine Hill Road wash-out. I believe this could have been avoided with proper road maintenance. These sections of road have large, deep cracks in the pavement which causes erosion and the eventual failure of the road, not to mention the deep potholes. Are there any plans for repaving these sections of roads anytime soon? Sincerely, Julie Belanger, Santa Cruz A: The County Public Works Department is well aware of the condition of Vine Hill and Mountain View roads but work isn’t planned there anytime soon because of lack of funding, said Steve Wiesner, the agency’s assistant director. “We agree that ditch cleaning and regular road maintenance greatly increases the odds of a road surviving major storm events,” Wiesner said. But that's difficult to do for all the county's roads with limited funding. The agency receives about $7.1 million annually to do things such as place signs, stripe roads, patch potholes, perform storm clean-up, resurface roads, trim vegetation, pick up litter, remove debris, operations engineering, encroachments, permits, clean ditches sweep streets and keep county yards, he said. Of the revenue received, $56.40 comes from property taxes each property owner is charged annually. But revenues have been flat for more then 15 years, while inflation and expenses have been climbing, Wiesner said. “In fact, the gas tax revenue has declined in the past couple of years due to more gas efficient cars on the road and declining usage,” he said. The sluggish funding also has meant reductions in public works staffing. “County road crews have gone from approximately 75 people to approximately 55 people in the last five years because of the flat revenues and increasing expenses,” Wiesner said. “Please note that one storm damaged road alone could cost the County $1 million to repair -- the most recent Vine Hill Road Repair project cost $750,000.” Even if the county gets emergency storm repair funding from the state or federal governments, the county must front 20- to 25-percent of the cost, he said. If no funding is received, the county must cover the whole thing. “Such, is the case with the recent damage to East Zayante Road,” he said. Thus, the county has been focusing its efforts – and dollars – on maintaining major collector and arterial roads, such as Soquel Drive, Soquel–San Jose Road, Bear Creek Road, Green Valley Road, Freedom Boulevard, Graham Hill Road and Summit Road. That said, this summer, a 1.9-mile portion of Vine Hill, from West Vine Hill to Jarvis roads will be chip sealed. No resurfacing plans are in place for Mountain View Road in this or next year’s budget, he said. Now, the county is encouraging residential neighborhoods to form something called a County Service Area Subzone, which will fund a local resurfacing program. With enough participants contributing $50-100 annually, it “could keep a road like Vine Hill or Mountain View in great shape,” he said. For information on forming a service area subzone, visit http://www.dpw.co.santa-cruz.ca.us/operation.htm and click on the Residential Neighborhood Street Resurfacing Program tab.
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