The hazards of travel on the lower Russian River’s crumbling roads raised a renewed public outcry last week from river residents still digging out after February’s flooding.
“I’ve never seen it this bad,” said a Riverside Drive resident among the audience of about 60 people who filled the Monte Rio Community Center for the Thursday, April 18, meeting of the Lower Russian River Municipal Advisory Committee (MAC).
Residents say high water and storm runoff have worsened already dangerous conditions, with road slides and slip-outs closing some roads that are the only way in or out of river neighborhoods.
“There was 10 feet of water where I live,” said Al Abramowitz, who lives on Riverside Drive, where flooding covered the street and left water standing for days.
But familiar lower river complaints about chronic puddles and poor drainage will remain low priorities compared with new slides, slips and potholes plaguing the lower river’s roads, county officials told the audience.
Repair crews dealing with more than 100 storm-related landslides and slip-outs are working “primarily here in District Five,” said Dan Virkstis, program manager for Sonoma County Department of Transportation and Public Works (TPW).
According to Virkstis, Sonoma County road crews are now fielding requests to repair approximately 2,000 potholes.
Guerneville county road maintenance yard alone has been besieged with 480 pothole repair pleas, and “they’re chewing through them as quickly as they can,” Virkstis said.
“We know that our rural roads are struggling,” Virkstis said. “There are a lot of storm-impacted roads.”
But even some new slide damage work will have to wait for drier conditions, otherwise problems may worsen “if we start moving dirt on a slide that is still active,” Virkstis said.
Sonoma County is looking at an estimated $23 million in road repairs related to this winter’s rain and flooding, and it’s still unknown whether a federal disaster declaration will make Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds available, Virkstis said.
“We’re waiting on that right now,” Virkstis told the MAC audience. “The process is slow and tedious.”
River residents’ litany of complaints last week were not all flood related, with speakers urging action on vegetation maintenance, road drainage improvements and other traffic issues associated with the often steep and narrow winding roads that serve Russian River hamlets, whose origins date back a century or more.
Meanwhile high-priority storm damage work is either under way or pending on the county TPW priority list, said Amie Windsor, field representative for Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins.
“A lot of the roads are already set” for needed repairs, paving or other necessary improvements, said Windsor.
In a report to county supervisors last week, TPW said its ongoing priority projects include:
• Assessing and clearing 110 landslides, ranging in severity from minor slips to Stewarts Point-Skaggs Springs Road, which was buried by approximately 12,000 cubic yards of debris blocking the road and the Gualala River. A route has been opened for emergency vehicles to pass, but the area remains closed to the public.
• Working on King Ridge Road, which experienced 12 landslides over a 10-mile stretch of road. Eight are safe to clear, but four require geotechnical assessment and an engineered repair.
• Monitoring Moscow Road, which is closed at Cassini Campground near Duncans Mills, where a slide destroyed the westbound lane and continues to undermine the road. Geotechnical assessment of the slide is ongoing and extensive repair will be necessary to reopen the road.
• Designing a temporary repair to the Mays Canyon Road Bridge, which suffered damage to an abutment.
• Performing geotechnical assessments of Neeley Road in Guerneville where further repair/protective work will be needed.
• Monitoring a slow-moving slide on Westside Avenue in Hacienda where four homes had to be red-tagged as unsafe to inhabit. TPW anticipates further monitoring and remedial work may become necessary at this location.
According to the TPW report, “Many of these sites contain active landslides that are still unstable or actively continuing to slide, which means that assessment needs remain on-going and that full assessment and repair must be timed to when conditions stabilize … While long-term repairs and work are anticipated, immediate repair and construction is expected to continue through and be needed over the next several weeks to several months.”