The Foothills Sun-Gazette: Tulare County Begins catching up on rural road maintenance with SB1 funds

September 27, 2017
By: Reggie Ellis

Residents living in Tulare County’s eight cities might complain about the occasional pothole, cracked pavement or swollen intersection, but those who drive on country roads know that pales in comparison with the sunken sections of street and riddled roadways that plague rural roads between towns.

But before you pick up the phone and complain to your supervisor, Resource Management Agency director Reed Schenke provided your elective representatives with a little perspective on the near impossible task of keeping up with the county roadways. In a Sept. 12 report to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, Schenke said his RMA staff is responsible for maintaining more than 3,000 miles of roadway, the seventh largest road network in the State of California behind Caltrans, US Forest Service, City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County and its neighbors Fresno and Kern Counties. All but 241 miles of those are considered county roads outside of communities.

Despite the expansive road system, Schenke’s staff inspects every mile of roadway every two years. Each road is graded on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being excellent and 0 failing, known as the Pavement Condition Index (PCI). Overall, Tulare County’s roads have an average PCI of 66, considered “fair” condition, and better than the California counties average of 61.5 and the state average of 65. But in order to just maintain its current road conditions, Tulare County would have to spend $25 million this year alone but only has a budget of $18 million for pavement maintenance.

“At that rate, in the next 10 years, our roads go from the fair range to the poor range,” Schenke told the Supervisors.

But that probably won’t happen thanks to an influx of road repair funding from the State. In April the legislature passed Senate Bill 1. Known as the Road Repair and Accountability Act (RMRA), SB1 establishes a Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation Account for road repairs and maintenance to ensure the safety and infrastructure of local roads and state highways. The revenue is from an increase in 12 cents per gallon in the gas tax, $25 to $75 in the Vehicle License Fee effective as of Nov. 1, 2017 and a new $100 fee for zero emission vehicles that will take effect on July 1, 2020.

Tulare County is projected to receive $4.5 million in additional discretionary road funding from SB1. In order to qualify for the funding, Schenke said the Supervisors must identify and submit the list of projects that will use SB1 as their primary funding source.

The list presented by Schenke included nine projects to repave 12 miles of roadway totaling $4.7 million. The project list included:

  • Avenue 408 between Road 112 and Road 120 west of Cutler-Orosi
  • Avenue 384 between Road 80 and Road 96 south of Dinuba
  • Avenue 264 between the Highway 99 northbound onramp and Road 100 north of Tulare
  • Road 100 between Avenue 264 and Avenue 276 south of Visalia
  • Avenue 120 between Highway 43 and Road 64 west of Tulare
  • Avenue 256 between Road 152 and Road 164 south of Farmersville
  • Road 192 between Avenue 104 and Avenue 132 west of Terra Bella
  • Richgrove Drive between Avenue 8 and Avenue 16 north of Richgrove

Supervisor Steve Worthley said he was eagerly anticipating the projects which will improve farm to market roads that are vital to the local economy but are in the worst shape because of the toll that large trucks take on the roads.

“It’s exciting to see we are going to be able to move that needle in a positive direction,” said Worthley, referring to an improvement in the average PCI rating of county roads.

Supervisor Kuyler Crocker noted that SB1 would not reach its full allotment for several years but instead of waiting suggested that the County schedule more road maintenance projects now before the roads deteriorate into more expensive road construction projects.

Chairman Pete Vander Poel, who represents District 2 which encompasses the largest number of country roads at 980 miles, said he was glad to see more road improvements done in his district with three of the three of the nine projects scheduled in District 2.

The Supervisors unanimously approved the list of road projects that staff will submit to the California Transportation Commission for its allotment of SB 1 funds. Once approved, the projects are expected to be completed by next fall.