Dealing with flood-prone winter roads was a hot topic at the Oct. 17 meeting of the Lower Russian River Municipal Advisory Council, . County officials were on hand to talk about what the county could and could not do to keep roads open. They shared some good news and bad.
Sonoma County’s 2019 wildfires and floods have residents looking for reassurance that their roads will be in shape for routine and emergency use. The visible good news is that major roadways have been spiffed up, and a number of one-lane roads have been “winterized” for the short term. The bad news is that repairing major closures will require major FEMA funding, which could take three or four years to arrive — if those funds are actually approved and allocated.
For many decades, Moscow Road between Duncans Mills and Monte Rio has been busiest during the summer months when many vacationers used that road to reach the Cassini Ranch Family Campground. Now they have to take Highway 116 to Duncans Mills and cross the river and double back to Cassini’s entrance. Just beyond that entrance, Moscow Road is crumbling over a massive slip-out, demarcated by white concrete barriers on each side. Anyone who peers over one of those barriers can tell the slip-out is going to get worse when the rains start. Those who hoped to have Moscow Road back in weeks as an emergency escape route now have to plan to escape in another direction.
The Moscow Road example “demystifies the FEMA process,” said Dan Virkstis, Sonoma County’s Transportation and Public Works public affairs program manager. “It’s not weeks. It’s years.”
He said there are seven FEMA sites in west Sonoma County that will undergo temporary winterization repair by contractors over the next few months “before the winter season sets in.” He named Coleman Valley Road and several separate sites on King Ridge Road in Cazadero.
“Sonoma County uses a combination of corrective maintenance and pavement preservation to take care of our 1,369 miles of roads and 328 bridges, which is the largest road network in the San Francisco Bay Area,” he said.
Virkstis noted that the abundance of single-lane country roads in the west county create maintenance problems “because they were not properly engineered when they were created.”
And not all those roads are even passable. Monte Rio Fire Chief Baxman recalls the time when he could use Duncan Road as a shortcut. Now major sections of that road have disappeared.
Drake Road and Neeley Road across the Russian River from Guerneville are two roads that can trap whole neighborhoods when they flood.
Chief Baxman noted that winter flood damage is not the only threat.
“If there’s a fire headed your way,” said Baxman, “don’t get trapped hosing off your roof with a garden hose. If they tell you to get out, have a bag ready with your essentials; grab it and go,” Baxman said. “But watch out for your neighbors, check for invalids. I’m a big proponent of neighborhood groups.”
If you live in The Terraces in Monte Rio, he said, “Cross over to Highway 116 and drive west,” not toward Guerneville, no matter where you intend to end up. And if you’re on a one-lane road, said Baxman, you have to watch for people escaping in your direction. Drivers can run head-on into one another on one-lane roads. A notorious example is Rio Nido Road from Armstrong Woods Road over the hill to Rio Nido.
Public safety experts say that when neighbors meet to plan for the inevitable, they increase their chances of escaping when disaster strikes.
Find detailed escape maps at russianriverfire.org/community-evacuation-and-disaster-planning.