Two stretches of bumpy two-lane pavement, both 7.5 miles long, both heavily patched but revered by cyclists who prefer scenic back roads over city bike lanes. In all other ways, the winners of this year’s Worst Road contest couldn’t be more different.
Spring Hill is a dusty “farm to market” road linking the west county dairies with Helen Putnam Park and downtown Petaluma to the east, Tomales and the Two Rock Coast Guard Training Center to the west. Cows outnumber people, which explains the loamy aroma and the relatively low traffic volume, just 229 vehicles a day.
Sonoma Mountain is a tree-lined residential road that also serves as an east-west link for Glen Ellen and Kenwood travelers on their way to Rohnert Park or Petaluma. Between Bennett Valley Road to the west and Warm Springs Road to the east, it gains altitude while winding past gated driveways, vineyards and a zen center. The air smells of wood smoke and wet trees, with the road narrowing to one lane as it passes through a small redwood grove. In 2012, the county counted 1,390 vehicles a day on the western end, between Bennett Valley and Pressley roads, and 474 on the longer stretch east of Pressley.
Those who responded to the 2013 Worst Road Contest nominated a total of 57 roads, and although Spring Hill and Sonoma Mountain “won” this year, many other roads are as bad or worse. Sonoma County has nearly 2,750 lane-miles of pavement, and in October, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission rated their condition as “poor” and in need of major rehabilitation or reconstruction. (Read more about that report here.)
Readers called Spring Hill atrocious, a disaster and a meteor-blasted moonscape. It’s “a real live jiggler,” wrote Cookie, and bicyclist Bill W. had this to add: “With 110 psi and no shocks, it’s butt numbing.” Carrie Winningham was focused more on the discomfort of the residents when she wrote, “My heart breaks for the MANY people who live off that road. I hope they never need emergency services, because it won’t be long before they can no longer get to them.”
Andy Eber had the most telling comment: “Even the dairy trucks avoid it now.”
Those voting for Sonoma Mountain Road pointed out man-eating potholes, describing the drive as similar to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. “My mail person can’t get close to the mailbox because the shoulder of the road by the mailbox is now a 9 foot long, 8 inch deep pothole,” wrote a reader named Sally. “Pot holes, patches on patches, cracks everywhere,” wrote Andrea Tobias. “It is the main road between Bennett Valley Road and Pressley Road for wine trucks during harvest season, and the noise is terrible.”
“It’s just one pot hole patched over another with OK pavement in between,” said Craig Harrison, a Sonoma Mountain Road resident and co-founder of the advocacy group Save Our Sonoma Roads. What isn’t already crumbling looks like alligator skin, he said, and in addition to inconveniencing residents, the rough road is a big issue for the 200 bicyclists a day who use it as a scenic place to work up a sweat.
“Besides residents, about half the traffic comes from tourists, winery vehicles and nonresidents who use it as a main route to west county,” Harrison said, adding that more than 550 residents have signed a petition asking to have the road paved.
Tom O’Kane said he would like to fix Spring Hill Road if funding was available, pointing to smooth pavement on nearby Chileno Valley Road and Western Avenue. Micro-paving it would cost about $1 million, a chip seal more than $400,000, but even that’s not going to happen this year. The deputy director of the county’s Transportation and Public Works department said “neither of these corridors is in (the ad hoc committee’s) proposed work plan for pavement preservation next year.”
Sonoma Mountain Road is a different challenge, built on mountainous terrain with lots of ground movement and moisture, he said. The least expensive fix would entail repairing the road base and chip sealing it. That would cost more than $1 million for just 7.6 miles of sparsely traveled road.
Six or seven years ago a 200-foot stretch east of the redwood grove was washed out during a huge winter storm, closing the road completely. The county did major landslide repair there a few years ago, O’Kane said. “Last summer a crew was out doing more work and looked down. There was already a crack about 100 feet from the repair that was filled with sand and top sealed. It was 22 inches deep.
“There are lots of bad roads,” he said. “Irwin Road and portions of Frei Road, they’re in horrible shape, but the problem has occurred over decades. These roads were never constructed properly. Someone graded a path, put rock down and laid down asphalt on top of it.”
Repairing them often involves a complete rebuild, something O’Kane’s department did this summer to more than 50 miles of heavily traveled county roads, using money allocated for that purpose by the Board of Supervisors. “This has been a good year,” he said, “and I’m hoping for the same next year, that we’ll get into a routine of every year doing significant work. But even then it will take a decade to get caught up.”
Other roads nominated, listed in terms of popularity:
Burnside Road, Sebastopol
Barnes Road, Santa Rosa
Montgomery Road, Santa Rosa
Hoen Avenue, Sonoma Avenue to Farmers Lane
Hwy. 101 between Healdsburg and Windsor
Stony Point Road, Santa Rosa
Bloomfield Road, Kennedy to Valley Ford Road
Canfield Road, Sebastopol
Faught Road, Windsor
Bay Hill Road, Bodega Bay
Llano Road, Santa Rosa
Millbrae Road, Rohnert Park
Camp Meeker, all of it
Mill Station Road
Napa Road at Hwy. 12
Mountain View Ave.
St. Helena Road
Skaggs Island Road, Carneros
Pressley Road, Santa Rosa
Westside Road, Healdsburg (repaired this summer)
Eastman Lane, Petaluma
McNear Ave., Petaluma
Middle Two Rock Road, Petaluma
West Sexton Road
West Railroad Ave., Cotati
Mt. Vernon Road, Sebastopol
Pleasant Hill Road
Petaluma Hill Road
Agua Caliente Road, Sonoma
Watmaugh Road, Sonoma
Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park
Silk Road, Santa Rosa
Fitch Mountain Road, Healdsburg
Cleveland Ave., Petaluma
Ozone Road at Highway 12
Colgan Avenue, Santa Rosa
Langner Ave., Rohnert Park
Liberty Road, Petaluma
Paula Lane, Petaluma
Barnett Valley Road, Sebastopol
Lynch Road, Petaluma
Piner Road, Santa Rosa
Wilfred Avenue now that the casino is open
Willow Creek Road, Jenner
To see comments about the 2013 nominees, click here.