The sour economy, falling gas tax revenues and drying-up federal and state funds have contributed to a situation in which, save for pothole and emergency repair, the county is unable to effectively repave, maintain or upgrade any but a handful of main arteries among the county’s 600 miles of roads, said Public Works Director John Presleigh.
“We need to be doing basic maintenance on our roads, and there’s no money to get it done,” Presleigh said. “We’re looking for anything that can raise money.”
What little federal cash that does arrive, he said, is specifically earmarked for what are known as “federal aid routes” — main arterial roads, such as Empire Grade and Mount Hermon, Bear Creek and Graham Hill roads — and legally cannot be used to repave smaller rural roadways and residential streets.
Santa Cruz County roads are rated at 49 on an average pavement condition index, with a score of 100 being a new road and zero considered a failed road, according to a county-funded report by Nichols Consulting Engineers.
The average of 49 includes the 160 miles of federal aid routes, which separately average a much stronger score of 71.
At this point, Presleigh said, the deferred cost of maintenance to the county’s roads stands at $112 million, meaning it would take about that much money to properly upgrade and resurface all 600 miles of road. In four years’ time, the consulting firm estimates, that cost could be nearly $200 million. The total public works budget this fiscal year is $29.6 million, with only a portion dedicated to road maintenance.
With those bleak estimates, and with daily letters and phone calls to the department about deteriorating roads from communities countywide, Presleigh said more drastic fundraising methods are being considered.
At the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors’ meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 15, several ways to find money locally — including sales tax measures and fees — were presented for the board’s consideration. The supervisors have not made any decisions.
The goal behind any of those measures would be to become a “self-help agency,” Presleigh said, which simply means local residents would have to foot some of the bill to keep up the roads they use.
“If folks want their roads fixed, we need to look inwards,” he said. “Because we’re not going to get any help from the state or the (federal government).”
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