OUR COUNTY ROADS

INTRODUCTION

The Grand Jury (GJ) received complaints from residents of New Cuyama and Goleta, regarding the poor condition of their roads and sidewalks.  Pictorial evidence was provided to justify the complaints.  Subsequent interviews with the Director of the Public Works Department and several county supervisors showed that the situation is widely recognized and understood as resulting from a lack of funds to repair all county roads.  The Grand Jury made an investigation into this situation to verify that the lack of funds is the problem and, if so, to prepare a report that clarifies the situation so that it may be understood by county residents.

The objective of this report is to edify the public regarding the conditions of our county roads and the reasons why they are as they are.  We find no fault with the Public Works Department.

 

PROCEDURE

Members of the Grand Jury visited the town of New Cuyama to see road conditions. The GJ also spoke to residents of that town as well as to residents of Goleta.  Several meetings were held with the Director of the Public Works Department and with the Deputy Director for Roads and Transportation.  They provided extensive data and documentation.

OBSERVATIONS

Road status report

Santa Barbara County has 917 miles of roads, ranging from arterial in non-rural areas to primitive roads in rural areas.  For example, Hollister Avenue in Goleta is a non-rural arterial and Foxen Canyon Road in the Santa Ynez Valley is a major rural.  The breakdown by supervisorial district is:

District 1 91 miles
District 2

94 miles

District 3

408 miles

District 4

157 miles

District 5

167 miles

 

Figure 1 is a map of the five districts.

Figure 1. Santa Barbara County Supervisorial Districts

 

Tables 1 and 2 list the county road mileage with roads in a poor or failed condition.  These roads can no longer be fixed, but must be replaced.  Technically, these are roads with an Overall Condition Number (OCN) of 21 or greater.[1]

 

Table 1. Non-Rural Roads in Failed Condition

  Total Miles Failed Miles Pct. Failed
District 1 27.3 0.8 2.9
District 2 81.3 10.2 12.5
District 3 122.3 17.3 14.1
District 4 129.3 4.2 3.2
District 5 27.5 3.2 11.8

 

Table 2. Rural Roads in Failed Condition

  Total Miles Failed Miles Pct. Failed
District 1 63.3

19.5

30.9

District 2 13.2

4.1

31.3

District 3 285.5

162.6

56.9

District 4

27.7

13.9

50.2

District 5

139.3

88.8

63.8

Table 3 summarizes Tables 1 and 2 by tabulating the total miles of failed roads in each district and the percent of failed road miles to total miles in each district.

Table 3.  Summary Failed Roads by Supervisorial District

District Failed Road Miles Percent Failed Miles
1 20.3 22.3
2 14.3 15.2
3 179.9 44.1
4 18.1 11.5
5 92.0 55.1

 

District 3 has the most road miles in a failed condition but District 5 has the greatest percent of its roads in failed condition.  Using either measure, Districts 2 and 4 are in the best condition.

 

The road maintenance budget

 

Preventive maintenance consists of treatments to the road surface.  These include fog seals, chip seals, asphalt concrete overlay and some repair to concrete sidewalks.  Corrective maintenance consists of repairing potholes, crack sealing, shoulder backing, attending to trees, curbs and gutter repair and making sidewalk ramps with asphalt.  Table 4 lists the dollar amount budgeted in FY 99-00 for these activities:

 

Table 4. FY 99-00 Budget for Road Maintenance

 

Revenue Source Preventive Corrective Storm Repairs Totals
Local Measure D $3.3 million     $3.3 million
State Gas Taxes $1.0 million $4.8 million   $5.8 million
FEMA funds     $1.3 million $1.3 million
Totals $4.3 million  $4.8 million $1.3 million $10.4 million

 

The monies available for road maintenance total $10.4 million.  A detailed description of how this money will be used is given on page 12 of the RdMAP document.[2]

 

Is the $10.4 million being distributed equitably?

Is the $10.4 million for road maintenance being spent equitably among the five supervisorial  districts?  The $1.3 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) goes to emergency road repair and is awarded by the Federal government whenever we are declared a disaster area.  The money is a reimbursement for specific projects and its allocation is outside county control.

Measure D revenues derive from a one-half percent sales tax (part of the 7 ¾ percent current total) voted into being in 1989 for the purpose of maintaining and improving city

and county roads and certain state highways.  These monies can also be used for regional capital improvements, bridge maintenance, drainage facility projects, seismic retrofit, etc.  Measure D revenues are apportioned by the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) according to population among the eight jurisdictions in the county---Buellton, Carpinteria, Guadalupe, Lompoc, Santa Barbara City, Santa Barbara County, Santa Maria and Solvang.  The County estimates that it will receive $6.491 million in Fiscal year 99-00. The Board of Supervisors has elected to distribute these funds according to the unincorporated populations of their five districts.  The result is given in Table 5.

 

Table 5. The Allocation of Measure D Funds

District % Unincorporated
Population

$K Actual
Allocation

% Lane Miles

$K Possible
Allocation

1 10.25 665 9.73 631
2 18.07 1,173 10.56 685
3 41.04 2,664 44.34

2,878

4 25.00 1,623 17.39

1,128

5 5.63 365 17.98

1,167

Totals 100 6,491 100

6,491

 

The actual allocation column in Table 5 lists the inter-district apportionment based upon the fraction of the unincorporated population within the district.  The last two columns list the lane miles in each district, and the Measure D revenues each district would have received if the revenues had been apportioned by lane miles.[3]

The Second District would have received half as much ($500,000 less) if it were awarded funds by lane miles, and the Fifth District would have received more than three times as much ($800,000 more) under the lane miles formula.  The unincorporated portion of the Fifth District suffers the most under the present formula. 

The $3.3 million in Table 4 is the portion (roughly half) of Measure D funds allocated for road maintenance, that is, pavement restoration. (The remainder is used for bridge maintenance, drainage facilities, concrete work and seismic retrofit.) A reallocation of  Measure D funds by lane miles could have a large affect on the road maintenance budget.

The $5.8 million state gas tax derives from an excise tax imposed upon gasoline distributors.  It is the most flexible of all the funding sources and can be allocated as desired.  The Public Works Department has elected to distribute these funds equally among its three corporate yards in Santa Barbara, Lompoc and Santa Maria.   These yards

are responsible for roughly equal road miles. This allocation serves to partially even out the road maintenance monies spent among the five districts.

Can we afford our county road system?

The ideal preventative road maintenance program consists of performing three fog seals and two chip seals over a 20-year period and an asphalt concrete overlay at the end of the 20-year period.  (See RdMAP document, page 6.)  This program costs less than a program of not maintaining roads, but of allowing them to slowly deteriorate and be replaced every 20 years.

The Grand Jury asked the Public Works Department (PWD) to derive a number that would support the ideal road maintenance plan.  PWD computed a $7.8 million figure per year, using a rough estimation procedure.  This is the minimum budget necessary to maintain the 917 miles of our county roads.

The county's actual expenditures for preventive maintenance (from Table 4) is $4.3 million, consisting of $3.3 million from Measure D funds and $1.0 million from the State Gas Taxes.  The annual shortfall is $3.5 million.  So we are not spending enough to maintain our roads and they are slowly falling into disrepair.  The backlog for road maintenance (specifically, pavement restoration) continues to climb and has reached $59 million.[4]

More accurately, some of the roads are falling into disrepair--- actually being abandoned--- and others are being maintained properly.  To begin to diminish the backlog, the PWD annual budget needs to be increased by more than $3.5 million.  The more funds that are provided, the sooner the backlog will disappear and the road situation will be remedied.

Board Resolution 89-465 states:[5]  “ PRIORITIES: I. It is the intent of the County to use sales tax proceeds to fund fully the road repair and maintenance program, so that existing local roads are maintained properly on a schedule consistent with sound engineering practices. II. After adequate provision is made for such road maintenance program, taking into account expected costs and revenues, such sales tax proceeds will be used for the following needs…”  The other needs listed are: projects that improve the safety of drivers and pedestrians, projects that relieve congestion at local roads and intersections and projects for alternative transportation systems.  The point of this is that road maintenance is the first priority and that the law does not prescribe the allocation of the $6.491 million

Measure D revenues.  More could be spent on road repair rather than the $3.3 million currently budgeted. 

The Transportation Division of PWD recommends a budget of about $28 million for construction and maintenance activities in FY 1999-2000.[6]  The Grand Jury cannot perform a detailed analysis of this budget, but it is hoped that it may be possible to reallocate funds within the $28 million to provide a few million more to repair our county roads.

County liability for poor roads and sidewalks

The County may be liable for damages caused by the dangerous conditions of roads or sidewalks, if the County had become aware of the condition and had not repaired them. Hence, the PWD makes it a priority to attend to dangerous conditions as soon as they are made aware of them. 

Some damage claims are made in Small Claims Court.  In such cases, no attorneys can be involved and the County Counsel does not get involved.  The Office of Risk Management generally handles these claims itself.  If the claimant uses an attorney to represent him, then the Risk Management Office has one of the County Counsel’s staff represent them.  The attorney’s time is then billed to the Office of Risk Management.

Table 6 lists the cost of attorneys used from the County Counsel’s Office and the value of judgements paid out for damage claims made against the County. Only costs attributed to faulty or poorly maintained road or sidewalk conditions have been included.[7] 

 

Table 6. Legal Costs Of Faulty Road and Sidewalk Conditions

Fiscal Year

Number of
Losses

Attorney and
Judgement Costs

1995-1996 13 $49,200
1996-1997 15 $91,089
1997-1998 19 $26,212
1998-1999 4 $     182

 

The “number of losses” column applies only to claims that have been settled and the case closed.  Thus the data for the most recent years is “green” and may yet grow as more claims are filed.  The data for 1995 through 1997 is considered “mature” and probably represents the final figures.  One concludes that the county spends an average of $70,000 per year for damage claims and attorney fees.

Seventy thousand dollars is 0.7 percent of the $10.4 million road maintenance budget.  This dollar amount is not unreasonable or excessive, as damage claims can not be totally avoided even with perfect roads and sidewalks. 

 

CONCLUSION

The County has built more roads than they can afford to maintain. The County cannot afford to maintain the roads that they already have. Practically speaking, the County has abandoned many roads in rural areas.

 

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Finding 1:  County non-rural roads appear to be properly maintained, but many rural roads are essentially being abandoned for lack of funds.  Presently, more than 30 percent of rural roads are in failed condition and would require reconstruction to be made whole.

Recommendation 1:  The Board of Supervisors and PWD should reexamine the allocation of transportation funds between capital projects and road maintenance with the goal of increasing the funds for road maintenance.

Finding 2:  The Board of Supervisors is not adhering to the priorities established in their Resolution 89-465.  The resolution states: "…PRIORITIES: I. It is the intent of the County to use sales tax proceeds to fund fully the road repair and maintenance program…".

Recommendation 2:  The Board of Supervisors should reexamine their priorities for use of Measure D funds.

Finding 3:  PWD needs more than $3.5 million per year beyond their current budget to arrest the deterioration of roads and to begin reducing the backlog of roads needing repair.  Measure D language and Board of Supervisors Resolution 89-465 permit more of Measure D funds to go for road repair and maintenance. 

Recommendation 3:  To correct an imbalance of Measure D funding allocated among the County Districts, the Board of Supervisors and PWD should consider allocating funds by road lane-miles and population on an alternating year basis.

 

AFFECTED AGENCIES

County Board of Supervisors

Findings 1, 2, 3
Recommendations 1, 2, 3

Public Works Department

Findings 1, 3
Recommendations 1, 3

 

 

 

[1] OCNs run from 0 for a road in perfect condition to 25 and over for roads that have failed.

[2] Road Maintenance Annual Plan RdMAP, FY 1999-2000, County of Santa Barbara, Department of Public Works.

[3] One mile of a two-lane road equals two lane miles.  Lane-miles, rather than road miles, is the appropriate measure to use when allocating budgets.

[4] RdMAP document, page 6. This figure incorporates the benefit of a one-time infusion of $12 million from State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) Augmentation funds,

[5] Resolution to Establish Priorities and Policies for Use of the Estimated Local Portion of the ½ Cent Sales Tax for Transportation Needs in Santa Barbara County.  August 1, 1989.

[6] Santa Barbara County Proposed Budget,  FY 1999-2000, page D-262.

[7] Data is from the Office of Risk Management, General Services Department, and is dated Feb. 24, 2000.  Costs include the entire loss category of “Faulty Condition/Maintenance” and pertinent portions of “Slip & Fall”.