Jeff Jardine

End of bemoaning bumpy roads is still years down the road in Stanislaus County, cities

A pothole developed recently on Albers Road near Patterson Road, south of Oakdale. The abundant rainfall and shortage of maintenance money is causing the roads to deteriorate at a rapid pace. This small hole in the pavement will continue to grow, with several pieces ready to come loose unless patching is done.
A pothole developed recently on Albers Road near Patterson Road, south of Oakdale. The abundant rainfall and shortage of maintenance money is causing the roads to deteriorate at a rapid pace. This small hole in the pavement will continue to grow, with several pieces ready to come loose unless patching is done. jjardine@modbee.com

We bemoaned the lack of rain throughout four years of drought. At the same time, we bemoaned the region’s crumbling roads and streets because the money didn’t exist to maintain them.

Of course, now we’re bemoaning the excessive amount of storm runoff that is flooding parts of Modesto and well out onto Stanislaus County’s West Side. And the bemoaning will continue on the transportation front for the next several years even though voters passed the Measure L tax by 71 percent in November. Why?

Because in a normal rainfall year, Stanislaus County roads require about $15 million in repairs. Most repairs couldn’t be performed, Stanislaus County Public Works Director Matt Machado said, because gas tax revenues declined, reducing the money the state sends back to the local agencies for road fixes. Hence, the $15 million in annual patch jobs falls under “deferred maintenance,” meaning the roads will continue to decay until money becomes available.

The county won’t begin collecting Measure L tax revenues until April, though Machado expects to ask for an advance on his allowance from the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors to get started patching the cracks and potholes, and to show the taxpayers their good faith will be rewarded.

But adverse impacts of rainfall on pavement will require years of effort to reverse or at least arrest.

“Water directly destroys the roads,” Machado said.

Because we’ve had roughly twice as much rain this season as in normal years, the roads are deteriorating twice as fast, he said. Consequently, the deferred maintenance needed this year really is closer to $30 million than $15 million. And even when the road tax is generating its projected $38 million a year, it will be shared between the county and its nine cities. Machado’s department will receive $5 million of it for road maintenance. That means it will take more than six years to catch up on patching and sealing.

The damage could be just beginning. Many of the county-maintained roads are old farm lanes that were eventually paved over, but lack the gravel base of a well-constructed road. Water seeps through cracks in the pavement or, in some cases, comes up from beneath, and the surface begins to crumble.

Some have been rebuilt or resurfaced in recent years. But many have gone years without repairs while others that a year ago were in good shape are now breaking down. Albers Road south of Oakdale is one of those, with cracks and potholes growing by the day.

Some roads on the West Side of the county are under anywhere from a few inches to a couple of feet of water from the San Joaquin River flooding. While the pavement will dry in a day or so after the water recedes, the saturation on the shoulders and underneath make them vulnerable to damage.

Kristin Olsen continued to live in Stanislaus County while she served in the state Assembly before terming out and becoming a county supervisor. Her District 1 includes the northeast part of the county and includes some of what would be considered the county’s bumpier major thoroughfares. Taking her kids to soccer practice on Litt Road, north of Sylvan, has become a bone-jarring experience.

“I wouldn’t say I was surprised (by the deterioration of the roads),” she said. “I was regularly reminded. I’ve checked my tires, the road is so rough out there.”

She is open to advancing funds to Machado to get repairs going.

“I’m certainly behind making some progress early on,” she said. “Having good roads improves our quality of life.”

Indeed, the weather is beyond our control. But there is hope for a day, albeit a few years from now, when we won’t be moaning about driving on rough city streets and county roads.

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