County of Marin - News Releases - Deeper Dive: Road Maintenance

For Immediate Release
June 24, 2016

Deeper Dive: Road Maintenance in Marin County

The first in a feature series about our most important local subjects

This feature story is the first in a series that highlights the top priorities set by Marin County Board of Supervisors based on input from Marin residents. The Deeper Dive series provides perspective and vision about important local issues. 

San Rafael, CA – While traveling on Marin County roads, some drivers are entranced by an audio book, others are jamming to their favorite tunes, munching on lunch or chatting hands-free on the phone. Not many are assessing the quality of the road despite that it’s essential to their safety.

A County crew works on paving a road, with a big truck and tractor on the right and freshly laid gravel on the left.A County crew prepares to pave a road.
Road maintenance is designated as a high-priority item by the Marin County Board of Supervisors and was emphasized June 20 and June 22 during County’s annual budget hearings. Along with public safety, road maintenance is one of the most basic and necessary components of local government service in any jurisdiction.

When the new budget was approved June 22, the Board reiterated its commitment by allocating $10.5 million for road improvement projects in 2016-17, nearly $9 million of which is supported by the County’s General Fund. Compared to prior years, that represents an ongoing increase of $1 million plus a one-time increase of $2 million.

Bigger funding commitments from the Board are going a long way toward maintaining the County’s road quality, but inconsistent funding sources from state and federal agencies have made this a bigger challenge each year. In January 2016, the California Transportation Commission reduced funding for the state’s transportation program by $754 million over the next five years. It was the largest cutback in nearly 20 years, and it was due to projected reduced revenue from gasoline tax. The tax of 18 cents per gallon to fund road improvement has not gone up since 1994.

How does a “green”-minded county such as Marin improve road quality when more electric, hybrid and fuel-efficient vehicles lead to less gas purchased, which leads to less gas tax revenue, which leads to less state funding for road maintenance?

Despite Marin’s recent federal grant successes for major roads and bridges, grants for local road resurfacing projects are becoming scarcer. Almost every California county that relies on state funding for local projects that improve traffic and air quality will have to cut or delay projects indefinitely. The result will be louder cries to address crumbling infrastructure.

The Marin County Department of Public Works’ (DPW) Roads Division is doing everything in its power to ensure its roads do not deteriorate.  In addition to advocating for changes in Roads funding in Sacramento, the Roads Division staff is growing more aggressive in its pursuit of other grant sources and the Board’s larger General Fund contribution helps to address the shortfall and reverse the deterioration of our roads infrastructure. For instance, the County secured $3.2 million in federal grants under the Highway Safety Improvement Program in December 2015.

The Role of the Roads Division

The Roads Division prides itself on providing and maintaining a safe and adequate road system for the 845 lane miles of pavement in the unincorporated areas of the county. State and federal highways are the responsibility of state and federal agencies; roads in incorporated towns and cities are handled by those municipalities; and the rest fall under the auspices of the county governments.

As with any collection of aging infrastructure, it’s a challenge for a municipal government to keep up with demands of road maintenance. The bulk of Marin’s roads were first paved between the 1930s and 1940s as the automobile became the No. 1 transportation choice and the Golden Gate Bridge opened the door for southbound commuters. Those County roads have required steady maintenance ever since.

Since 2006, DPW has resurfaced about 50 percent of its roads – 423 lane miles out of 845. In that same timeframe, the County’s overall road network condition rating, called the Pavement condition Index (PCI), increased high enough to bring it out of the “at-risk” category. DPW proposes to resurface another 31 percent of its most-used roads (261 lane miles) before 2020.

Ongoing Commitment by the Board

Starting with the economic downturn of 2008, the Marin road maintenance work program was drastically impacted by reduced funding. In response to the growing problem, the Board of Supervisors initiated a five-year Road and Bridge Program representing a $50 million investment in road infrastructure. All work was completed by 2014, and the County's PCI went from 48 to 60. The PCI for unincorporated roads has increased significantly over the past seven years, targets for fiscal years 2016-17 and 2017-18 will only maintain the current PCI, not increase it.

To maintain the current road conditions and keep the deferred maintenance backlog from growing, the Board in 2014 initiated another program, a $48 million, six-year 2014-2020 Road and Bridge Rehabilitation project. Funding under the latest program has provided matching funds so that significant grant revenue – to the tune of $35 million – could be captured under the Federal Lands Access Program ($23 million) and the Highway Bridge Program ($12 million) to preserve our transportation system.

“We are very fortunate that the Board of Supervisors continues to support our road infrastructure, not only with funding but also support that this is a high priority within the County,” DPW Director Raul Rojas said. “With the assistance of the Board, we continue to seek all outside funding sources to assist in this goal.”

Upcoming Roads Projects

A handful of major roads projects are underway this summer or will be started this summer. In San Rafael, the Civic Center Drive Circulation Improvements Project will revitalize the road between the new Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) station and Peter Behr Drive, creating a new roundabout intersection and providing better access to the passenger rail system.

Now with budget approval from the Board of Supervisors, DPW will spend $18.5 million on roads in 2017-18 and $17.4 million in 2018-19 to further improve the Pavement Condition Index. Planned projects include five bridge replacements and two resurfacing projects – one on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in rural West Marin (from Pierce Point Road to the Point Reyes Lighthouse) and one on Muir Woods Road from the Muir Woods National Monument to Shoreline Highway (aka Highway 1) are slated for construction in the summers of 2017 and 2018. 

One of the largest projects scheduled in the more populated central part of Marin is the resurfacing and rehabilitation of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from Highway 101 in Greenbrae/Larkspur to the Ross town limit. Safety and traffic flow improvements are needed for one of the County’s most important east-west arteries. About $13.2 million from the Transportation Authority of Marin, collected from a 2004 tax measure, will be put toward that project. Construction is to start by summer 2018.

The smaller, routine jobs are important as well. Pot hole repair, minor patch paving, ditch and culvert maintenance, tree removal maintenance of signs, striping, and pavement sealing are handled by County roads crews that are operational at all hours of the day and sometimes seven days a week during emergencies or bad weather.

“We have no shortage of projects and we’re eager to get to work on them,” Rojas said. “We want all drivers, residents and visitors alike to feel safe when they’re behind the wheel on County-maintained roads. We have strong support from the Board and we know our local residents are relying on us. We take that responsibility very seriously.”

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Raul Rojas
Department of Public Works

3501 Civic Center Drive
San Rafael, CA 94913
(415) 473-6530
CRS Dial 711
Email: Raul Rojas