Houston Mayor Turner kicks off pothole promise by doing work himself

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner grabbed a shovel and got to work to officially kick off his pothole promise program.

Under the watchful eye of 26 city employees, Mayor Turner spread asphalt, tamped it down and declared victory.

"That is the 936th pothole (filled this year)," Turner said.

Watching nearby Houstonian Denise Sakahara noted, "It's a good thing. I am very impressed."

The Mayor promised Houstonians in his inaugural address on January 4 the city would "assess and address" potholes within one business day of being reported to the city's 311 system. He added that he wanted them fixed in that time as well.

On Tuesday, the Mayor announced that the city has succeeded in that goal 94 percent of the time and thanked city crews who are working extra days and on weekends to keep up with the demand. An abc13 analysis of city data did not find the same rate.

The mayor said he is still spending money in the budget this year to speed up the process. He has implemented a modified non-essential employee hiring freeze citywide, which he said could save $5 million this fiscal year and could be used for the pothole program.

City records show huge spikes in reports to 311 over the phone, website and mobile app. Reports spiked last Wednesday with 244 reports. That was the day after Turner announced initial reports of success at a widely covered City Council meeting.

Reports have since dropped slightly, but Houstonian Jack Vest summed up his feelings noting he was pleased with the progress but, "Trust me, he will not be able to take the wrath we will throw on him if he doesn't fix these potholes."

While the mayor trumpeted success, he unveiled the new www.houstonpotholes.org website. It will allow Houstonians like Vest to track progress of their own potholes and city wide efforts.

"We know you will ask the questions. We know you will check the system," Turner said.

And Ted Oberg Investigates did check the system. According to an abc13 analysis of 311 data from January 4, 2016 through Sunday night, the city success rate is hard to duplicate.

While Turner says 94 percent of reported potholes were filled within one business day, our review showed that rate to be closer to 25 percent. Regardless of time, 84 percent of all reported potholes had been filled. Both are tremendous improvements over last year at this time.

The most troubling finding in our analysis though is a growing backlog of larger fixes. Any street fix larger than 5 feet by 5 feet is put into a different category called "Street Condition" reports. Since New Year's Day, the backlog of those complaints has grown by 48 percent and possibly more. It means larger spots of broken asphalt, holey roads and crumbling concrete may wait longer for repair than Houstonians were used to last year.

When asked by abc13, "How confident are you this is not pulling resources from other things Public Works needs to be doing?" Turner responded, "I am very confident."

In response to our findings, the Mayor's Office attributed the differing success rate to a different data set it uses and the backlog to a temporary shift in priorities.

From the Mayor's Office, "Due to the heightened attention on the pothole program, we are seeing a corresponding increase in the number of more involved street condition repairs."

As of 4pm Tuesday, the Mayor's Office admitted the number of open large street repairs stands at 906 - a 91 percent increase since the start of the year. They quickly add that only 16 percent of them are more than a month old. "The city continues to intend to complete the repairs on these cases within 30-days."

If you find a pothole you want fixed, the mayor encourages you to download and use the 311 mobile app. The city says it is more efficient. The 3-1-1 phone line is still working, but Turner staffer Tina Paez noted Tuesday that every 140 pothole app reports represents a call-taker the city does not have to hire, saving the city more money.
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