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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Speaking to the County, Part I

Jack Louws, the County Executive, and several of his department heads showed up on Wednesday night here in Point Roberts to talk about what the County can and can't do to help us.  The Community Advisory Committee invited them up to address, particularly, the use of transportation funds, now over a half-million dollars.  (Please, can I have them for the new library?  No.  Okay, no surprise because a library is hard to categorize as transportation, as even I can tell.)

As a result, much of the conversation focused on transportation, with various Point Roberts' attendees insisting that our roads here are terribly dangerous and need to be fixed immediately.  This is a claim frequently heard at the CAC meetings, and I wondered about exactly how the County decides which roads need to be repaired/re-engineered because of safety issues.  Obviously, no road is absolutely safe, just as no automobile is absolutely safe, so there's no point in trying to impose absolute safety as a standard.  But the County must have some standards, some way of deciding which roads are so problematic as to need to get to the top of the fix-it list.

And the reason that the County must have such standards is because they have expertise in this matter in the way that the average citizen neither has nor is expected to have.  If somebody has an accident in front of my house because of bump in the road, they aren't going to sue me to recover the cost of their injuries; they're going to sue the county (assuming they sue anybody), and the County needs to have some kind of defense.  And expertise and due diligence is their defense.

SO, after the meeting, I asked Mr. Rutan who is the head of some County Transportation unit, how they make that decision to fix some particular road/section.  He responded clearly and very kindly offered to send me the 2012 Priority Array of Roads for Whatcom County.  Within 24 hours, that document arrived via the Net and I am here to report the following:

The State requires each county to do an annual priority rating of roads in the county and, using an algorithm based on traffic volume, accident rate, geometry, ride, drainage, rutting, and cracking, to provide each section of road with a rating from 1-100, 1 being the worst, and 100 being the best (i.e., not a problem).  These priority rating lists give the county some fact-based indications for when a road is such a problem that it must/should be addressed.  As opposed, say, to fixing a problem road because whichever local person squeals the loudest has squealed or because some Council-person's best friend would like his own street improved immediately.

The list for Whatcom county includes 228 roads/sections of roads.  Their individual priority ratings (how you decide which ones need attention) range from 27 to 77.  Goodman Road pegs in at a 42 priority rating, and it is #26 on the list (along with 7 other roads/sections which are rated 42 priority).  That is to say, at best, 25 other roads in the county are less safe and more of a problem than Goodman Road is, even though Goodman Road seems like a nightmare problem to many people here on the Point.  Currently, the county is repairing 4 other roads/sections which have risen to the top.  So, it doesn't sound to me like #25 roads with ratings of 42 are all that unsafe or that they're going to rise to the top of the worst road lists and get addressed at any time soon.  Unless they further deteriorate.  And the County and Mr. Rutan would very much like to know if people are noticing new evidence of deterioration in Goodman Road, but they do already know that it is problematic and what its problems are.

Incidentally, the second P.R. appearance on this list of a Point Roberts Road is APA road from Boundary to Tyee, which has a priority rating of 45, and comes in at number 45 on the list, almost 20 places behind Goodman (many roads/sections have the same ratings, such that 6 roads/sections have a rating of 42, for example).

Tyee, which was repaired last year, must have risen to the top of the list for some combined set of facts; Goodman has not risen to the top of the list for some combined set of facts.   But nothing is going to rise easily to the top of the list nowadays because, as our visitors repeatedly said, the County is hard pressed to do much of anything because their revenue has been so severely reduced.

Thus, if we want roads fixed, we need to raise the tax base/revenues sufficiently that there's enough money in the road-fixing budget to get all they way down to the roads with #42 priority ratings.  

And that's how it works.

More about the rest of the CAC meeting in the next post.

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