The potholes and rough patches on Griffith Road are well-known to Evan and Krystal Sikma, who drive the stretch between Delhi and Hilmar every day.
But one day in February, Krystal Sikma couldn’t avoid hitting a pothole that stretched from the shoulder of the road into her lane. When her 2013 Hyundai Elantra hit the chasm, it popped two tires and split two rims, causing damage costing more than $1,000.
The couple from Hilmar filed a claim against Merced County, joining a line of motorists angered over the state of public roadways.
Merced County’s road division receives complaints about potholes daily, said Greg Garcia, the county’s road superintendent. With recent rains making potholes even worse, the calls are only becoming more frequent.
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1,700Miles of paved roads in Merced County
Officials acknowledge the county’s 1,700 miles of paved roads have been in poor condition for years. Some of the most remote roads were in such bad shape, they’ve been turned back to gravel or given to property owners to maintain.
The Sikmas’ claim for damages was one of three filed recently by drivers hoping to be reimbursed for vehicle damage caused by bad roads. The Merced County Board of Supervisors rejected all three claims during a meeting this week in one motion, without discussion, which is common practice.
“They fixed the part of the road where the car hit the pothole,” Evan Sikma said, “but they neglected 10 miles of road that is just as bad. I’m tired of (the county) neglecting and not taking ownership of the roads.”
Merced County this fiscal year budgeted about $6 million for roads, said Richard Schwarz, assistant public works director. Spending on roads fluctuates every year, and next year Schwarz said he expects it to decrease. Funding for road projects is determined by the state Board of Equalization, gas tax money and highway user taxes.
“Next year, we anticipate even less highway user and gas tax money,” Schwarz said.
Deidre Kelsey, District 4 supervisor, said Merced County has a “long history” of having substandard roads.
“I heard that complaint when I moved here 40 years ago,” she said. “We don’t have the number of roads other areas have, nor do we have the quality of roads other areas have.”
Kelsey said Merced County doesn’t have the taxes to support road maintenance and infrastructure. When the county does receive money for roads, it typically comes from federal or state earmarked projects.
“There’s no guaranteed sources of funding to maintain and repair the road system,” she said.
There’s no guaranteed sources of funding to maintain and repair the road system.
Deidre Kelsey, District 4 supervisor
The county last year did commit $1.4 million to road projects, including asphalt overlays on Henry Miller Avenue, Mitchell Road and others. Other recently completed projects include Campus Parkway and the Merced-Atwater Expressway, but those were funded by either federal or state money.
The Merced County Association of Governments for the fourth time is proposing a transportation ballot measure. This time around, money generated from a half-cent sales tax would be used for repairing and maintaining roadways, repairing sidewalks and increasing safe access to schools.
The proposal would need support from two-thirds of Merced County voters to pass in November. But first, four of the county’s six cities and the Board of Supervisors would need to officially endorse the plan for it to appear on the fall ballot.
The tax increase would last for 30 years, amassing an estimated $450 million in that time, and would be untouchable by the state. The details for the proposed tax are not final, but each city would receive a base amount of money – $150,000 a year, for example – and the remainder would be divvied up by population and the miles of road in each jurisdiction.
Leaders in some cities, such as Livingston and Los Banos, have expressed their doubts that the tax would be used to benefit them, worrying money would be spent elsewhere.
Schwarz said any extra money to fix roads will help.
“Will it solve the problem?” he asked. “It won’t even come close.”
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477