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Placer’s 13 miles of bad road viewed as ugly but safe

Auburn-area rough spots include sections of Shockley Road, Delores Way and Richardson Drive
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County’s 13 miles of bad road are ugly, cracked, sometimes bumpy stretches of blacktop.

But they’re safe, according to the Public Works Department.

Director Ken Grehm made his pitch this past week for an infusion of $2 million into the road fund to help improve what his department is describing as overall deteriorating road conditions.

Included in his report to the Board of Supervisors was a look at the condition of the county’s 926 miles of paved road. A total of 143 miles in unincorporated areas outside cities are judged “poor” while another 13 are deemed “failed.”

Grehm said in an interview afterward that bad roads aren’t unsafe roads. For Public Works, unsafe conditions such as potholes are repaired as quickly as possible, he said.

“If it is unsafe, it has to be handled immediately,” Grehm said.

Instead, the worst stretches of Placer County blacktop are typically cracking apart  but drivable.

“They don’t drain well and water gets caught underneath,” Grehm said. “It looks like an alligator’s hide, with a bunch of asphalt rocks in the road. But the ride can still be smooth.”

The Auburn area covered by county public works outside city limits has its share of problem roads.

Kevin Taber, county roads superintendent, pointed to Dolores Way in the Bowman area, Shockley Road, Racquet Club Drive and Mott Court as good examples of roads that could be considered bad.

“Dolores gets a lot of truck-turnaround traffic and it leads into a neighborhood,” Taber said. “Many of the roads like this are kind of like a mosaic. You pull out one piece and the whole thing goes.”

Portions of Bowman Road – which gets more traffic – would be higher on the priority list because it’s used more, Taber said. The road was overlaid 10 years ago, using federal funds that were more readily available at the time. Now, crews are filling cracks to prevent water from seeping underneath and undermining the 2003 work, he said.

But Auburn-area roads don’t take a pounding like they do in Tahoe, where freezing temperatures expand water underneath roadbeds, or in Western Placer County, where flooding weakens road surfaces.

Sections of Fiddyment Road, Dowd Road and Camp Far West Road are on the list of bad roads. Grehm said he’d estimate Chamberlain Road, just off Highway 65, has likely the worst surface of any road in the western end of the county.

In the Sierra, problem pavement includes McKinney Road, near the McKinney Rubicon Trail and Soda Springs Road at Serene Lakes Road.

“But everything’s relative,” Grehm said. “We have segments spread throughout the county.”

Grehm said that the $2 million would provide funding for stretches of road throughout the county but would likely be used on the well-traveled sections that have the greatest demand to be kept up.

“I compare it to people who have an oil change,” Grehm said. “They don’t do it to make the car run better but so the car doesn’t seize up and result in a more expensive overhaul.”

Before 2007, the county typically would put $2 million to $2.3 million into pavement overlays and sealing work. Grehm said that through the 1990s and early part of the 2000-10 decade, pavement condition levels stayed steady.

At its peak in 2007, the county’s Average Pavement Condition Index stood just below the “good” level. The $2 million or more in funding ended in 2009 and Grehm said the county is now going to have to play catch-up. The latest condition index shows pavement conditions now at the lower end of “fair.”

Grehm said the decline will continue unless funding can start to reverse the quality dropoff.