Rocklin street maintenance funding a rocky road

City signals tax increase could fund estimated $10 million in yearly fixes
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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City’s bad roads

Argonaut Avenue

Woodside Drive

Rawhide Road

Clover Valley Road

Rainier Avenue

Springview Drive

Source: City of Rocklin

An analysis of the city’s biggest strengths and weaknesses has identified Rocklin’s crumbling roads as the city’s Achilles’ heel and now City Manager Rick Horst is signaling a possible sales tax increase to deal with it.

Longtime Rocklin homeowner Bill Sanchez has been letting the city know about the bad roads off South Whitney Boulevard for years.

“When I ask the city they tell you, ‘no,” Sanchez said.

He admits he gets frustrated when he sees newer parts of town get new road surfaces while his older part of town is largely ignored by road crews. City staff recently identified some of the worst roads during the City Council’s strategic planning session Jan. 12, including Argonaut Avenue, Woodside Drive, Rawhide Road and Clover Valley Road and, in Sanchez’s neighborhood, Rainier Avenue and Springview Drive.

“Golf course (neighborhoods) seem to get a lot of action – the squeaky wheel gets the grease, always,” Sanchez said. “They need to get a better strategy and quit spending money in other directions.”

Whether the road surface is in an affluent or poorer neighborhood is irrelevant to city officials, who said it’s all a part of well-developed plan to save money and maximize the life span of Rocklin’s roads.

“The thing is, it is not widely understood,” Rocklin’s Deputy Director of Public Services Justin Nartker told the council at its meeting.

“You get the people with the very bad street and they see a nicer street getting a remodel,” Nartker explained. “It is not necessarily the most politically friendly, but it is the right thing to do.”

Rocklin has joined cities like Roseville, Sacramento and Woodland in using the StreetSaver program developed by the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation System to uniformly rank roadways to extend their useful life while maximizing city funds.

“We can spend as much money solving one lane mile of (bad) road or we can maintain 20, 30 or 40 miles by not letting it ever get that bad,” Horst explained. “So in some cases you have to let that bad one just go until you can fully fund its (reconstruction).”

The city recently spent more than $2 million reconstructing Stanford Ranch Road from the Roseville city limit to Sunset Boulevard. Now that road has a 20-year lifespan with a maintenance plan to extend it even further.

The problem becomes how the city can possibly maintain its 199.6 miles of aging roadways.

“We do not have enough funds to do what needs to be done,” Horst said.

The price tag is staggering compared to the city’s $41 million operating budget.

“Conservative estimates – as the new stuff in the northwest and Whitney Ranch and all that begins to show wear and tear – we’re going to need to spend $10 million a year,” Horst said. “We’re about $1.5 million at present.”

The city uses its portion of gas taxes paid when drivers fill up to help fit the bill, but threats from the state of California to dig into those funds every budget fight makes the city nervous.

“We’re going to have to come up with some more funding at the end of the day,” Horst said. “We know we’re not going to get it through the gas tax or sales tax. We have to look at some options.”

That could include a provision in the recently passed Proposition 30 that could allow the city to raise its sales tax to fund the roads.

“Earmark a percentage of a sales tax or property tax that is just for these types of things,” Horst said. “I propose we carve off a slice of that and guarantee it toward roads.”

That process could take a while, as the council will not only have to weigh in on the issue, but a referendum would also need to be put together and ultimately sold to the public to be approved. In the meantime, Horst wants the council to rethink policy and possibly put the brakes on the proposed Dominguez Road overpass with Interstate 80 and the proposed four-lane expansion for Pacific Street near the Loomis town limit, and reduce maintainable road surface where possible.

“In some cases we build roads that need to be four lanes, that’s OK, but then we have a bike lane and parking lanes,” Horst said. “Well maybe we don’t need to build parking lanes. That can reduce our road surface by a third and potentially save a third of the costs.”

For now, the City Council will have to decide what roads to maintain, what roads to replace and which ones to just let go when the city’s new Capital Improvement Plan comes out this spring. Citizens are encouraged to comment on the plan.