Tired of potholes? The residents who live along Lichau sure are. Road Warrior, a Sonoma County transportation blog, holds a poll each year for the worst of the roads. This year’s winner? Yep, Lichau. We sent KALW’s Lindsey Lee Keel for a drive.
LINDSEY LEE KEEL: Penngrove’s Lichau Road cuts through grassy farmland. Oak tree branches reach through the afternoon mist. It’s really beautiful. But the road itself? Not so much. The road is a patchwork of pavement, potholes, and loose gravel. I pull over to get a closer look.
That’s the sound of the loose road. It sounds like I’m walking on rocks, which is basically what it is. It’s in chunks… chunks of rocks.
Road Warrior, a Sonoma County transportation blog, holds a poll each year for the worst of the roads. This year’s winner? Yep, Lichau. Janae Rosen, who lives near the top of the road, cast her vote right here.
JANAE ROSEN: There are some areas that are so bumpy from so many patches that people veer to the opposite side of the road in order to miss the bumpy part and it’s very dangerous. We have school buses that travel up this road. Safety is a big issue.
Such an issue that she and her neighbors have started a campaign called Save Lichau Road [www.savelichauroad.com]. They have collected signatures on a petition calling for its repair. They’ve held meetings with the county’s transportation division.
ROSEN: Everyone is sympathetic. Everyone gets it. They want to fix the roads, but they don’t have the money.
Rosen says Lichau has plenty of company on the bad road ballot.
ROSEN: 89 percent of the roads in Sonoma County are what we would call orphaned. All they get is a little patching with this kind of hot asphalt they come out with a shovel and put in. And it doesn’t last even a season.
But it’s not like the county isn’t aware of the decaying roads.
TOM O’KANE: It is truly a money issue.
That’s Tom O’Kane, Deputy Director of Transportation in Sonoma County.
O’KANE: Our budgets been cut anywhere between 30 to 40 percent over the last three years, and we’ve lost about that percentage of our staff. And we just don’t have money enough to do everything that needs to be done with the infrastructure.
O’Kane says the gas tax is the main source of revenue for road maintenance, and it hasn’t been raised since the early 1990s. Since then, he says, the cost of asphalt, concrete, and fuel has more than doubled, or tripled, while the income has stayed the same.
O’KANE: It was figured last year that if the gas tax was just raised 15 cents on a gallon of gas, that most of the transportation problems in California would go away. They would be solved.
But the California legislature isn’t passing new taxes. So Janae Rosen wants to look beyond Sacramento and into the community for creative answers.
ROSEN: The good thing about what’s coming out of this movement, with Save Lichau Road, is that we are not a group of angry people or citizens. We are a group of people that want to create a solution. We want to work with the county and we want to find a way that all of our roads can be maintained. It only makes sense.Despite her activism, it hasn’t happened yet. So Lichau, like many other roads in wine country, continues to provide a beautiful, but bumpy, ride.
On what may well be the worst road in Sonoma County, I’m Lindsey Lee Keel, for Crosscurrents.