San Benito County’s biggest challenge to improve its roads was made more challenging by the most recent winter storm that caused about $20 million in road damage. Hollister received 3.24 inches of rain on Jan. 26-28, but the largest rainfall was experienced in south county.
Resource Management Agency Director Benny Young said most of the damage, which ranges from debris on roads to total washouts, was in south county. Given his initial assessment following the storm, the county proclaimed a local emergency on Feb. 4 to the state; it was ratified by the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 9.
The roads that sustained the most damage are Cienega Road, Coalinga Road, King City Road, New Idria Road, Panoche Road, Salinas Grade and Southside Road. Fairview Road and Union Road also sustained shoulder damage estimated at $250,000 each. Young said Highway 25 was also damaged, but because it’s a state highway Caltrans is responsible for repairs.
New Idria Road was completely washed out and is estimated to cost $3.5 million to repair, according to the Feb. 9 Board of Supervisors meeting agenda packet. Panoche Road, from Paicines to the Fresno County line, sustained damages estimated at $4.5 million.
Young said the county concluded its initial assessment three days after the storm and sent its report to the state. He said the report included an additional $5 million estimate for soft costs such as design and construction, for a total of $25 million in damages. As of March 4, the damage assessments are ongoing.
San Benito County Office of Emergency Services Director Kris Mangano said the county is asking the state to include San Benito with 12 other counties that also declared a local emergency. If approved, the county may qualify for reimbursement on repair work related to the storm-damaged roads. As of March 4, the county has not heard from the state, she said.
Meanwhile, Young said he hopes the state will front some of the costs because the county “is really hard-pressed to front-end those kinds of expenses.”
In February, Young presented to the Board of Supervisors that the county needed an additional $12.2 million in funds to maintain current road conditions. According to the 2018 statewide local streets and roads assessment, San Benito County has the worst roads in the state with a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) of 37 out of 100. The statewide average for local roads is 65.
As part of the process to consider San Benito County’s state of emergency, a team was sent to review the damage caused by the storm.
“They were down the weekend of Valentine’s Day and spent two days with Jason De Rosa, he is our road superintendent,” Young said. “He showed them all the locations we were dealing with.”
With limited funding and the limited road crews, Young commended county staff for a quick response to hazards left behind by the storm.
“The road crews did a stellar job of working day and night during the event and after,” Young said on Feb. 22. “They are still working on debris removal and shoulder work in south county to make sure the roads are able to open as quickly as possible. And in some cases only one lane instead of the normal two lanes.”
The corridors are important to the county, as they not only serve local traffic and tourism, but provide evacuation routes in an emergency.
“They are really important corridors even though they’re in largely rural areas,” Young said.
In an effort to find more funding for road maintenance, Young said the county will pursue federal grants through the Federal Land Access Program to improve emergency access roads.
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