published on February 24, 2017 - 5:38 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

(AP) — The bill to repair California’s roadways hammered by floods and rockslides in an onslaught of storms this winter has reached nearly $600 million, more than double what the state budgeted for such emergencies, and the costs are mounting for other badly damaged infrastructure just two months into 2017.

Recent storms buckled a section of highway in the Sierra Nevada between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe, causing the shoulder to collapse. Repairs are estimated at $6.5 million. In the scenic Yosemite Valley, only one of three main routes through the national park’s major attraction is open because of damage or fear the road could give out from cracks and seeping water, rangers said.

On the rain-soaked coast in Central California, the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in Big Sur has crumble beyond repair, blocking passage on the north-south Highway 1 route for up to a year. Until it is rebuilt, visitors can drive up to view the roughed coastline, then turn back.

Rebuilding an entire section of highway running through the Santa Cruz mountains that washed out is estimated to be one of the state’s most expensive road projects so far this year with a $15 million price tag.

California officials say they have not put a final price tag on damage to other infrastructure this year, including repairs at Oroville Dam, the nation’s tallest, whose spillways threatened to collapse and flood communities downstream. Early estimates put the fixes there at $200 million.

Emergency crews are still busy making repairs statewide, and they will tally the costs once things dry out.

“We have so many disasters going on at one time,” said Kelly Huston of the California Office of Emergency Services. “We’re not at a point where we can give a good dollar amount.”

Many communities have drained their entire emergency budgets and are looking to state and federal funding for help, while the state has an annual $6 billion backlog of roadway projects that leaders can’t agree on a way to fund.

Several more weeks remain in California’s wet season, which brings the potential for more costly infrastructure damage. Officials at the California Department of Transportation update their tally of needed roadwork each day.

The agency responsible for maintaining California’s highways, roads and overpasses has a $250 million reserve fund, far short of the cost to fix damage from recent storms.

“This is for 2017,” Caltrans spokeswoman Vanessa Wiseman said. “So, essentially we’re talking only two months.”

Storms at both ends of the state have wrecked more than 350 roads, shutting down traffic on at least 35 that await work to rebuild or shore up stretches that washed out, sunk or got covered in mud and rocks, officials said.

To cover the shortfall for emergency repairs, Caltrans next month will ask the California Transportation Commission for more money, Wiseman said.

Aside from emergency road repairs from storms, Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget identifies a $6 billion annual backlog of maintenance and repairs for California’s roads, highways and bridges. Lawmakers and the governor have not been able to agree on how to pay for the repairs.

Local communities hardest hit by flooding say that rebuilding bridges and roads washed out by storms will cost millions of dollars that they don’t have.

In San Jose, where storm flooding forced 14,000 residents from their homes this week, officials say they have not yet calculated the cost of the damage. Some people have not returned home yet.

Flooding and storm damage in January cost Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, $12.5 million, mostly for road work. Spokeswoman Jennifer Larocque said the county is requesting federal emergency relief funding.

Dennis Schmidt, Butte County’s public works director, said storms that led to an emergency at the Oroville Dam tore out two roads and left potholes that will cost more than $1 million to repair.

He said that will wipe out the county’s emergency budget.

“I’m looking out the window, and it’s blue skies and sunny,” Schmidt said. “We need it for a couple days to get out and patch some potholes. Our residents will greatly appreciate that.”

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