(BCN) — Multiple natural disasters in recent years have caused widespread damage to Santa Cruz County roads, but the biggest threat could be deferred maintenance that is projected to escalate in coming years.
Roads damaged by storms in 2017 and 2023, and by the CZU wildfire in 2020, are being repaired and repaved throughout the county. Some of the work is being funded by Measure D, a half-cent sales tax passed by county voters in 2016.
But a backlog of work that would cost about $267 million is expected to rise to $479 million in 2028, according to a presentation Thursday to the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission from Steven Wiesner, Assistant Director of Santa Cruz County Public Works.
The pavement condition index, or PCI, measures roads on a scale of 0-100, with 100 being a new road and 0 representing a failed road. It does not include storm damage. The county’s overall pavement score in 2018 was 48, which is considered “poor.” This year’s score is projected to fall to 41, and by 2028, the PCI could be 33.
Santa Cruz County Director of Public Works Matt Machado said in an email that the lower the score, the more likely a road is to fail and that it costs 10 times as much to repair a failed road than maintain one in fair condition.
He said work was deferred due to lack of funding. He said that Measure D was a good start, but more funding is needed to maintain the pavement. He also said that limited resources were stretched thin by the recent storm damage.
The cities of Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz, and Watsonville all score better than the unincorporated areas of the county, despite the fact that 68 percent of the county’s roadways are in those areas, and half of the population lives in unincorporated areas.
The county has 600 miles of roads. From 2018-2023 about 43 miles have been resurfaced.
Recently completed repaving projects include 220 locations that were damaged in the 2017 storms, which is about 80 percent of the needed repairs and 217 sites that were damaged by this year’s storms, which is about 40 percent of the total.
About 9 miles of Alba Road, Jamison Creek Road and Empire Grade were also repaved. That work alone cost about $3 million.
Wiesner said that emergency authorization from the state had expedited the repairs from this year’s storm, but that meant the county would have to seek reimbursement after the fact.
Some of the 30 projects currently under construction include repaving on San Andreas Road, Holohan Road, Airport Boulevard and Green Valley Road, and Buena Vista Drive.
Plans are at risk for a 2-mile-long protected pedestrian path and bike path along Green Valley Road, from Airport Boulevard to Mesa Verde Drive. The work, partly funded by a $5 million state grant, was projected to cost $10 million, but is now expected to cost about $12 million.
“If we’re not able to find a gap in funding between now and next June, we run the risk of having to give that $5 million back,” Wiesner said.
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