County Public Works Director Bob Perreault recently warned the Plumas County Board of Supervisors (BOS) the county’s road system was in a critical window of disrepair where neglecting maintenance could lead to ballooning costs.
In reaction, the board unanimously approved a resolution and letter, both calling for the state Legislature to protect road funding.
The director explained the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) created a needs assessment of local road and street systems throughout the state, including data on sidewalks, wheelchair ramps, roadway drainage and lighting.
Perreault said 81 percent of the roads in California were relatively evenly split between cities and counties, with only a small remainder made up of state and federal routes.
He said the 10-year study covered 93 percent of those local roads in the state and placed each road on a pavement condition index (PCI) ranked from zero to 100, with 100 being the best condition.
Perreault said the statewide average PCI was 68, just barely under the line between “good” and “at risk.”
A graph accompanying this article demonstrates a phenomenon the public works professional explained, where roads allowed to slip below the 68 level degrade more quickly, leading to more costly repairs.
Essentially the director emphasized a trend that “keeps being reaffirmed” indicating routine maintenance is much more cost effective than allowing a road to degrade significantly, which leads to the need for major repairs.
Perreault added that Plumas’ PCI was at 71 in 2000, 65.1 in 2008 and 64.4 in 2010, with none of those ratings including roadways inside the city of Portola.
The director stressed that current state funding levels for road repairs weren’t adequate to maintain the 68 PCI level, and a 38-cents-per-gallon increase in taxes at the pump would be necessary at this point simply to keep the state at that level.
Perreault said this meant the state was $37 billion short of the current maintenance needs and would be $79 billion short by 2033 if the current funding levels continued.
In his backup material, the director quoted Plumas’ 2010 County Regional Transportation Plan.
The plan commented that the current trend of under-funding maintenance “poses a major concern for the county because of its large tourist draw, number of state highways, large proportion of truck traffic on the state highways, and the fact that the automobile remains the primary mode of transportation.”
“Without additional federal or state funding, the county may be forced to consider new policy direction,” it concluded.
Graeagle Supervisor Jon Kennedy asked if new policy direction was “just another word for raise taxes.”
“That’s one of the options; it’s not a popular option,” Perreault responded.
“We know there are a lot of homeowner association roadways out there that continually talk to department staff of how to get their roads into the system and the answer could be ‘yes but it’s going to come with a cost.’”
Kennedy asked, given people probably wouldn’t be interested in 50-cents-per-gallon tax increases, “Should we just start getting used to driving on dirt roads? Is there a solution?”
“We just have to better manage our dollars,” the director responded.
Perreault commented that in terms of road funding everything had been going downhill since the timber boom ended.
He said road funding from the Secure Rural Schools act was declining over time and the Obama administration’s federal stimulus program “took us two years to administer and get pavement on the ground and we just had around 3 – 4 miles of roadway on two limited sections in the county.”
“That was fine as a one-time shot in the arm and we took it but that’s really not the way to manage a highway system,” he concluded.
“This all comes back to a small group controlling our destiny,” Eastern Plumas Supervisor Terry Swofford commented.
“I’m talking about environmentalists that have created these problems with our road departments, with our schools, because they won’t let us harvest timber.
“They create fire problems because we can’t harvest timber. If the general public (doesn’t) start pushing back against some of this stuff, we’re done, and it’s really frustrating for me to see this happen.
“It’s our children and grandchildren that are going to pay the price for our mistakes,” he argued.
Perreault agreed “there was plenty of money” when the timber industry was in full swing.
“Those decisions from 20 years ago were not in our best interest,” he opined.
“Well, you guys do a good job with what funds you have and it’s just going to be a priority,” BOS Chairwoman Lori Simpson chimed in.
“People (who) want to drive around on potholes are going to drive around. They have to pay for it.”
Indian Valley Supervisor Robert Meacher said Plumas was at a disadvantage because of how population factored into state road funding.
“In other words, we could have the same amount of roads in our county as an urban county but they get more money to maintain the road because there’s theoretically more people driving them.”
Perreault agreed that was how the funding formulas worked.
“In the summer time, those people aren’t driving on their roads in their county, they’re driving up here cause they’re recreating,” Meacher added.
“The policy was adopted unfairly in the first place because the urbans have … more votes, so you’re right,” Perreault concurred.
The supervisors unanimously approved a letter and resolution, both calling for the Legislature to re-enact several provisions of a 2010 tax swap, originally intended to protect road funds from constant state “borrowing.”
More information about the tax swap letter can be found in a sidebar accompanying this article.
Perreault told the board all reports from the CSAC road study could be found online at
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