Rough Streets In Houston Raise Questions About Maintenance

There’s been a lot of talk about the new roads and toll-ways that are being built around Houston. From the KUHF NewsLab, Wendy Siegle investigates the underreported condition of the city’s existing streets.


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When I asked people on the corner of Dunlavy and Westheimer their opinion on the condition of streets in Montrose, I got a lot of the same responses.

“Oh, they’re horrible.”

“The roads are horrible here.”

“They’re just torn up and messed up and hard to drive on.”

“The roads are just a lot of speed bumps, and pot holes, and ditches. It’s just difficult. They’re in bad condition and they really need to be change, most definitely.”

Liz Turner, a frequent driver on neighborhood streets inside the loop, wonders if the City of Houston can do more to maintain the roads.

“I don’t know if the city can do anything about it. But yeah, if they can do something about it, I think more money should be spent doing it.”

David Crossley is the president of Houston Tomorrow, an organization that focuses on urban planning and land-use around the Greater Houston area. Crossley is skeptical about the city’s ability to find the money to pay for the consistent maintenance of city roads.

“The basic structure is or the basic dynamic is, is that Federal money for roads go towards non-streets, let’s put it that way. So there really is no source of money for repairing and maintaining ordinary city streets, other than the tax-base of the city.”

Crossley says the city’s budget is pretty stretched already.

“And with police and fire safety stuff eating close to two thirds of the whole city budget every year, there’s really not much left over to maintain all the infrastructure.”

The city does have a number of programs in place to address the need for repairing its streets. One began in the 1960s and is called the Neighborhood Street Reconstruction Program. Homeowners can band together to sign a petition to have their street evaluated with the prospect of it being completely reconstructed.

“And that evaluation will consist of looking at new pavement, curbs, gutters and sidewalks.”

That’s Alvin Wright, the public information officer for the City of Houston’s Department of Public Works and Engineering. He says, once accepted, it generally takes about 7-10 years before the work actually begins. For minor repairs, the city calls on the Fleet Maintenance division to assess the streets for stability.

“We do what’s called a skin patch on various areas of that street, or we can go out and do a complete street overlay.”

Houston’s infrastructure is growing tired, with some road and utility systems more than fifty years old. Wayne Klotz is president of the American Society of Civil Engineers and has been a Houston-based engineer for thirty-five years. He says, the problem of maintaining existing roads is not unique to Houston.

“The way we manage infrastructure in this country is patch and pray. We wait till something breaks; we patch it and pray that nothing else breaks, which I don’t think is a good way to manage our infrastructure at all.”

Back on Dunlavy, local drivers say their primary concern is the toll the uneven surfaces takes on their vehicles. But ultimately, they say the lack of street maintenance is simply a daily annoyance.

From the KUHF NewsLab, I’m Wendy Siegle.