Last year, cities and counties across California were left wondering how the Public Works Department in tiny Yuba County did it: accomplishing four years’ worth of road repairs in a single summer, while managing to save $4 million in taxpayer dollars in the process. This week, the innovative solution was recognized in a statewide award.
The project titled “Tomorrow’s Paving Today” was named winner of the 2020 Outstanding Local Streets and Roads Project Awards Program in the Roads: Efficient and Sustainable Road Maintenance, Construction and Reconstruction Projects category. It will be highlighted at the County Engineers Association of California’s Spring Conference/Public Works Officers Institute March 19 in Monterey.
“As you might imagine, we are extremely pleased the creative thinking and hard work that went into this unprecedented feat in Yuba County is being honored, and we think the approach may be embraced by other counties,” Yuba County Public Works Director Mike Lee said.
The new awards program was developed to recognize and raise awareness of the exceptional achievements made by California’s cities and counties to preserve and protect the public’s investment in the local street and road system, according to the California State Association of Counties and County Engineers Association of California call for nominations (https://bit.ly/38WMohd).
Yuba County had originally scheduled 15 miles of road repair using gas tax funds, but by working with the Yuba Water Agency to get advanced funding leveraged against future gas tax funds, the County was able to complete 70 miles of road repairs last summer—representing 15 percent of the County’s entire network of paved roads.
This approach also resulted in around $4 million worth of savings, accomplished by bundling all the roadwork into two large contracts at once instead of multiple smaller ones, avoiding escalating construction costs, and avoiding ongoing maintenance on yet-to-be-repaired roads.
In 2017, the state Legislature passed SB 1—a comprehensive transportation funding bill that established a reliable source of gas tax revenues for the foreseeable future that adjusts for inflation (since 1994, gas tax revenues were never adjusted for inflation). Even through the significant road repair funding that would be generated by SB 1, it would still take years to make meaningful progress in fixing roadways.
Yuba County leaders had a lightbulb moment in hoping to advance SB 1 funds so the County could complete future road repair work in a single construction season, then pay back the advance over time using future apportionments of SB 1 revenues. Initially, using gas tax money to pay back loan advance was not allowed, so Yuba County worked with state lawmakers to champion Senate Bill 848 (2018), which changed state regulations to allow such a use.
After a complicated and lengthy process that required the use of special bond counsel and financial advisors, Yuba County received a lease-leaseback through the Yuba Water Agency. The end result was an advance/loan of $9 million at a favorable interest rate of 2.25 percent. Yuba County will use its general fund to pay off interest on the advanced funding, as benefits to residents exceed the cost of its improvements.
“The Outstanding Local Streets and Roads Project Awards Program highlights cities and counties that are employing projects, programs, practices, and innovative technologies and materials to achieve safety, preservation, and sustainability goals for the statewide local street and road system,” CEAC said in its awards call for nominations. “Their exceptional work is worth recognizing and replicating across the state!”