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Future of roads looks grim

Courtesy of Madera County

Two pie charts compare Madera County road conditions now to 10 years in the future if maintenance funding remains unchanged.


Madera County ranks as the seventh worst California county when it comes to road quality, with 62.9 percent of area roads in poor, very poor or failed condition.

That’s according to a final report presented last week by Nichols Consulting Engineering and the county Public Works Department.

The county hired NIC in March of 2018 to implement a county pavement management system.

Only 17.9 percent of area roads are in good condition, NIC reported April 9, and the quality is unlikely to improve due to insufficient funding. The county spends $5.5-7 million yearly on road maintenance, plus Measure T funds, but would need to spend $16.5 million annually — NIC estimated — just to maintain road quality over the next decade.

If the county fails to do so, the costs of repairs will rise even more, NIC reported, as upkeep for a fair quality road costs a fourth of the cost as maintenance for poor quality roads.

At existing funding levels, more than 70 percent of the county’s road network will be in poor, very poor or failed condition by 2028, NIC predicted.

Yet even in their current state, the county’s paved roads are a precious asset. If all roads disappeared, NIC estimated, the replacement cost of the county’s network of about 1,440 lane miles of pavement at $705.4 million — more than double the county’s total annual budget.

In the county, District 2 has the highest amount of roads (565.5 miles) and the lowest overall road quality. According to District 2 Supervisor David Rogers, the quality of some roads in his district is due to their being badly repurposed from humble beginnings.

“I think that’s very typical,” agreed Margot Yapp, NIC vice president. “With many rural agencies, you have essentially cow paths that were upgraded. Someone put gypsum on top of it and called it good.”

A major contributor to the county’s situation may be a practice of deferring road maintenance that began in the 1970s. In 1999, a Senate Resolution 8 report found that the state had a $10.5 billion unfunded backlog of deferred maintenance that had been growing since the 1970s.

The county has about $264 million in deferred “transportation network” maintenance.

The report by NIC proposed keeping a preventative maintenance strategy and pursuing federal state and local funding.

Rogers called the county’s road situation “an unsolvable problem” and praised the county’s Public Works Department: “You do a great job despite a lack of resources.”

Frasier said that, contrary to popular belief, property tax dollars don’t pay for roads. The funds have to be budgeted by the county.

“If people are saying roads are more important,” he said, “then maybe as a board we have the burden to say, okay, then what is it that you want to cut out of this discretionary budget? Where are we going to backfill that? Close fire stations? I don’t think that’s where we want to go. So we have to look at how do we get there.”

Frasier suggested the county set aside money for a contingency or road fund to keep cash flow amid inevitable shortfalls. Phil Toller, special districts manager for Madera County Public Works, replied that the county had such a fund five years ago but it was tapped into.

“In the past, we used to have that cushion ... But now it’s getting a little tight because of all these competing funds and too much work to do,” affirmed Public Works Director Ahmad Alkhayyat.

County supervisors did adopt a list of road projects April 9 for the 2019-20 fiscal year that will be funded by the state’s 2017 Road Repair and Accountability Act. These include a full depth reclamation of parts of Avenue 18 ½, Avenue 7 and Avenue 12 as well as an overlay on part of Road 400. The projects, which will be built from October to June 2020, are predicted to have a “useful life” ranging from 12-20 years.

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