Lichau Road, just east of Rohnert Park, starts out flat with plenty of pothole patching before winding 3.8 miles up into the hills. Click to enlarge. Road Warrior photos

This year’s worst road in Sonoma County is Lichau Road, a scenic, country route that winds up into the hills east of Rohnert Park.

At least that’s the verdict of Road Warrior readers who responded to our second annual poll last month, voting for a total of 87 roads.

Runner-ups were Spring Hill Road west of Petaluma, Sonoma Mountain Road between Bennett Valley and Glen Ellen and Frei Road north of Sebastopol.

Lichau and Frei were runners-up in last year’s poll, in which Irwin Lane just west of Santa Rosa won. Irwin was excluded from this year’s poll.

The poll is informal, and if you drive around the county, it clear that many roads easily could qualify as the worst. And this year’s voting probably was tilted to Lichau by Janae Rosen, who lives on a sidestreet along Lichau and whose email blitz to her neighbors got dozens to vote for Lichau (pronounced Lee-how). So Lichau is this year’s poster child for our crumbling roads.

Rosen also has whipped up Lichau’s residents to sign a petition — about 200 so far — demanding that the county fix the 3.8-mile road that starts out flat and then heads up the hill, offering amazing views of the Santa Rosa Plain. Lichau ends at the Fairfield Osborn Preserve.

In meeting so far with county officials, the neighbors have won promises that the county will look into repairs but no guarantee of actual major improvements.

Tom O’Kane, deputy director of the county Transportation and Public Works Department, said he feels for Rosen and other Road Warrior readers who want their roads fixed. But it’s a matter of money — the lack of it — that’s preventing the county from doing much more than patching potholes on most of its roads, he said.

In fact, the county Board of Supervisor has decided to have O’Kane and his crews keep only about 150 miles of the county’s 1,387-mile network in good shape, meaning the remaining 1,230 or so miles essentially will be left to deteriorate, other than very basic repairs.

As it climbs the hills west of Rohnert Park, with amazing views of the Santa Rosa Plain, Lichau Road narrows. The higher elevation roadway also is plagued by shifting ground. Click to enlarge.

For Lichau, O’Kane said, county officials plan to meet again with the residents, figure out what repairs can be made, how much they’ll cost and try to figure out where to go from there. He said the lower stretch of Lichau can be relatively easily repaired if money for the project is found but the upper stretch where the road is being damaged by shifting hillsides is not an easy fix.

O’Kane said the county has a plan for fixing Spring Hill Road — grinding it down, putting a heavy duty sealant over the pavement and chip sealing it off — but again it’s an issue of funding before the work can be done.

He said the funding crisis is forcing crews to focus on major roads rather than country roads where traffic is low. He didn’t have figures for Lichau, but O’Kane said the county counted 229 vehicles using Spring Hill over 24 hours on a Wednesday in June 2010.

Well-worn Spring Hill Road west of Petaluma runs 7.8 miles through farm country, from Chileno Valley Road to Bodega Highway. Click to enlarge.

One possible alternative for improving rural roads is for residents to create a service district and basically tax themselves to pay for repairs, he said.

As for his worst road, O’Kane declined to name just one, saying he could come up with “bunches of them.” But he did say roads in the Monte Rio hills, many of which are “notched into the hillside,” are “just awful.”

Rosen said she and her neighbors understand the county’s financial crisis.

“We’re not angry people,” she said. “We want to work with the county to come up with a system to all of the roads improved.”

She said the county Board of Supervisors “needs to be held accountable” for the county’s poor roads.

Regardless of the county’s money woes, she said the Lichau Road neighbors aren’t going to let the county off the hook.

“We’re standing firm on getting the work done,” he said.
To read all the votes and comments for this year’s worst road, CLICK HERE.

To read the story and comments about last year’s winner, CLICK HERE.

To read a Press Democrat story on Lichau residents’ campaign, CLICK HERE.

Follow the Road Warrior on Twitter via @pdroadwarrior

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