By Craig S. Harrison
President, Save Our Sonoma Roads
The recent road improvements in Bennett Valley is an opportunity to reflect on how these took place. For years after Marina and I purchased our property in 1998 and built our home in 2001, Bennett Valley roads slowly deteriorated. After rainstorms, gaping potholes sprang up like mushrooms and driving was a challenge. Residents painted white circles around potholes, and orange safety cones appeared in the middle of the larger craters. The only work the county did was to shovel steaming asphalt from the back of trucks into potholes. Cars drove over the piles, tamping them down unevenly, and adding to the bumpiness. I foolishly assumed that the county had a plan and would eventually repair our roads.
I joined the board of the Bennett Valley Community Association in 2006 with an interest in improving our local infrastructure. That October, I persuaded the BVCA to send a letter to Transportation and Public Works to formally ask the county to fix Bennett Valley’s roads. This began my education in road repair funding. In the mid-1980s, the supervisors essentially stopped funding road maintenance. After 25 years of irresponsible management, the 1,370-mile county road system—the county’s most valuable asset—verged on collapse. Our pavement condition index ranked among the worst in California. Whenever I asked public officials about this I was told “there’s no money to fix our roads.” That was unacceptable.
Formation of Save Our Sonoma Roads (SOSroads). In autumn 2011, Michael Troy (a resident of Lichau Road in Penngrove) and I founded SOSroads with the motto “making roads a priority.” Our goal was to increase funds to improve all county roads. Bennett Valley residents Bill Finkelstein and Ken Adelson joined the board of directors.
When I told Transportation and Public Works Director Phil Demery about SOSroads, he responded that he was the happiest man in the county. He said that no resident or citizen group had ever attended a Board of Supervisors meeting to support his budget. We learned that SOSroads was the only grassroots organization in California that advocated for better roads.
We met with supervisors and Phil Demery to bolster the budget. We educated reporters and received favorable news and editorial support from the Press Democrat, Argus Courier, and Kenwood Press, who described SOSroads as a persistent roads gadfly organization. We wrote opinion pieces for local papers, and got the Wall Street Journal and Reuters to write about our pathetic roads. We organized road summits with public officials, began a newsletter to motivate residents to get involved, and attended budget hearings.
SOSroads has been a success. The Board of Supervisors began increasing its contributions to pavement preservation in 2012, and developed a long-term strategy for roads. Sonoma County now contributes more of its general funds to pavement preservation than any other county in California. It also receives substantial gas tax funding from SB 1, which voters approved in 2017. All supervisors have supported this project, especially Susan Gorin and David Rabbitt. Transportation and Public Works has always been professional and supportive. About 446 miles of county roads will have been refurbished between 2012 and 2023 (see map), and the following describes the improvements in Bennett Valley.
Bennett Valley Road is part of the county’s 200-mile primary road system, and is the only east-west corridor between Highway 12 and Old Adobe Road-Stage Gulch Road. It is about 7.4 miles long between Warm Springs Road and the Santa Rosa City limit. At the BVCA’s request, in 2011 the county included the 5.7 mile stretch between Warm Springs Road and Sonoma Mountain Road in the primary road system. DTPW has implemented four projects to improve most of Bennett Valley Road to almost new condition:
August 2011 Grange Road to Yulupa Avenue (2 miles; federal economic stimulus funds).
July 2013 Grange Road to Old Bennett Ridge Road (2.9 miles, chip seal).
September 2014 Warm Springs Road to Old Bennett Ridge Road (2.5 miles, bonding wearing course).
October 2022 Grange Road to Walker Road (1.6 miles, bonding wearing course)
Grange Road--Crane Canyon Road is designated a primary road by Sonoma County, and is about 3.8 miles in length. During the past four years the entire road has been improved with a full depth reclamation process so that it is in like new condition:
October 2018 Guenza/Peracca roads to Inverness Avenue (2 miles).
October 2020 Grange Road to Guenza/Peracca roads (1.3 miles).
September 2022 Inverness Avenue to Petaluma Hill Road (0.5 mile).
Sonoma Mountain Road is designated a significant rural road by Sonoma County. Its 7.7 miles travels in a horseshoe between Bennett Valley Road and Warm Springs Road. It was twice voted the worst road in Sonoma County in Press Democrat contests, and in 2013 over 550 residents signed a petition to fix it. The county has brought about 3.2 miles of this road to a very good condition:
Pressley Road--Roberts Road are designated significant rural roads, and span about 4.3 miles between Petaluma Hill Road and Sonoma Mountain Road. During July 2015, county crews replaced culverts, performed grinding, patching and crack sealing the road base before the roads were chip sealed in August.
Old Bennett Ridge Road, Bardy Road, Rollo Road, and Bennett Ridge Road were refurbished this summer using funds from the county’s settlement with Pacific Gas & Electric for the 2017 Nuns Fire. They are in spectacular shape.
Additional Improvements Needed. The 4.5 mile stretch of Sonoma Mountain Road between Sonoma Ridge Road and Warm Springs Road is in such poor condition that in 2014 a county consultant concluded it had “no remaining useful life.” In fact, the condition of this stretch of Sonoma Mountain Road has severely deteriorated since 2014, with failed, depressed and sunken roadways, extensive large and dangerous potholes, and badly cracked roadsides. These conditions create hazards for vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Fortunately, the county has dedicated $750,000 of the settlement funds from PG&E for the Nuns Fire to improving this road, with work scheduled to begin in 2024 or 2025. The 1.3-mile stretch of Bennett Valley Road between Old Bennett Ridge Road and Walker Road remains in poor condition, and improving it would complete the rehabilitation of Bennett Valley Road.
We encourage Bennett Valley residents to support the continuing improvement of our roads by working with the BVCA and contacting Supervisor Gorin and the Department of Transportation and Public Works. In many ways, maintaining our roads is a never-ending project.