Commentary: Roads, not Rail Trail, should be priority
by John Armstrong
Dec 19, 2013 | 7236 views | 1 1 comments | 361 361 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Buried on the back page of the December 13 Press-Banner, the headline, “Local road projects get boost” (page 20), immediately caught my attention. The excellent article by Joe Shreve raises some serious concerns about the funding priorities and policies of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission.

The SCCRTC recently received approximately $14 million in Federal transportation funds, and doled it out to various projects earlier this month. While the Rail Trail received $5.3 million for development of less than 3 ½ miles of trail, a paltry $1.2 million was designated for improvements to sections of critical arterial roadways in the north county which have been deteriorating for decades. This was actually less than the modest amount that county public works director, John Presleigh, requested from SCCRTC.

But there’s a bigger picture. At a November 9, 2011 meeting of the county Board of Supervisors, Presleigh delivered a report stating: “In 2007 our [Santa Cruz County’s] consultant, Nichols Consulting Engineers, estimated that the deferred maintenance on County roads had reached more than $90 million. Based on their current update, over the past four years this deferred maintenance has grown to $ 112 million and will continue to grow to $195 million (in 2011 dollars) over the next four years.”

The $1.2 million SCCRTC allocation addresses approximately 1 percent of the road maintenance expenditures required in 2011. In light of the public statement by the county’s own public works director, it is very difficult to understand the logic behind the 2013 SCCRTC funding decision, when the need to address deferred maintenance on our county roads is so overwhelmingly obvious.

So what do we exactly get for $1.2 million in the unincorporated county? The improvements to short sections of Bear Creek Road, Mount Hermon Road, and Empire Grade consist of chip sealing existing surfaces. Chip seals are a low-cost pavement surface treatment. While much cheaper than applying a two-inch thick asphalt layer, chip seals are not long lasting and do not address the underlying failure of the road base.

In other words, a chip seal is like applying a band-aid to a broken bone. It’s a short term-fix that hides the real problem underneath.

In the case of Bear Creek Road between Mile 4.75 and Mile 7, the roadway is cracking and subsiding in many places. Meanwhile, SCCRTC statistics gathered at Bear Creek Road and Highway 9 show average daily traffic counts of approximately 5,000 trips per day during the decade beginning in 2003; not a trivial number. And Bear Creek is just one of many similar situations in the county.

There is no argument that the Rail Trail will be an asset when completed. As an avid cyclist and hiker, I believe it should receive funding, but not at the expense of our aging infrastructure. The SCCRTC’s first funding priority and primary responsibility to residents should be the maintenance and upgrade of existing infrastructure.

As we ease out of the recession, transportation officials can no longer use lack of funding as an excuse to avoid the issue. Funds are available, but responsible decisions must be taken to apply them where they are most needed. The Rail Trail is a relative luxury that supports leisure activities for those fortunate enough to have such free time. Good roads and reliable infrastructure are a necessity that county residents, businesses, and emergency responders rely on each and every day.

Let’s get our public spending priorities straight and not kick the can down the road, again. Taxpayers in the county, who provide the transportation funds and also subsidize the SCCRTC bureaucracy, should expect and receive nothing less.


- John Armstrong is a Boulder Creek resident.

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Theryl McCoy
December 19, 2013
You had me at Rail Trail is an asset... then you lost me at Rail Trail is a luxury.

The rail trail might be a luxury for you the avid weekend hiker and biker, but for many of us biking is a commute and transportation necessity. While the roads may be in a state of disrepair, the rail trail DOES NOT EXIST yet. Let's get a good solid layer of concrete, or if money is tight then a good layer of asphalt down on the rail trail, then we can mitigate the road damages.

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