Road repair cash is there, so why months-long delay?

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ByTed Oberg via KTRK logo
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
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Money to repair roads has been available since May, but ABC-13 has learned not only are the potholes are still a problem, they're worse

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- After an ABC-13 investigation in April showed a steep decline city road-paving and pothole fixing, Houston city officials quickly said they would find additional money to help fill the gaping, tire-ripping holes in city streets.

By May, Mayor Annise Parker proposed -- and City Council signed off on -- $10.8 million of additional taxpayer dollars from the city's drainage fee targeted at fixing Houston's roads.

"We need it as bad as the public thinks we need it," Public Works Deputy Director Eric Dargan told ABC-13 at the time. "We need to respond to their requests in a timely manner and do a good, efficient job in the process. We need it badly, we need reconstruction badly, we need maintenance badly."

But a new ABC-13 investigation has found that not only are the potholes are still a problem, the problem is worse: Pothole repair is down 45 percent since the new money was voted on, according to city records.

"The process took longer than you normally would have hoped," Dargan told ABC-13 on Monday. "I believe that people probably expected to see it quicker and sooner."

Indeed, eight months later, 80 percent of that money dedicated to road fixes has yet to be spent, creeping through the pipeline of city bureaucracy, records show.

"They are paying dollars for the drainage fee and they're not seeing the results of their investment," said Councilman Larry Green, who fought last year to get the additional money dedicated to road repair. "We have to be able deliver products faster than it's happening."

Green's Council District K stretches from the edge of the Texas Medical Center to Fort Bend County and includes the Astrodome. He says he's hearing from constituents about potholes every day -- and so are his colleagues.

"Every council member in the city is hearing from their constituents and I'm sure in the upcoming election it's going to be a big deal," Green said.

ABC-13 also found:

  • A new, $335,000 truck needed to lay asphalt paid for with that money has yet to patch a single pothole. Nine people have been hired to work it and the truck is due to be on Houston's streets Thursday, officials said.
  • The city has completed 22 percent more overlay projects, essentially laying new asphalt over long segments of bad road, compared to last fiscal year, but more could have been done. A $4 million contract to overlay new asphalt was ready to go out for bid in June. It didn't go out for bid until August, records show. The contract was just awarded in January -- seven and a half months after the money was available.
  • A $1.5 million project to patch plywood-sized holes in streets took five months to get through the bureaucracy and was awarded in November. Despite the new money, few fixes have been made. Records show those kinds of repairs are down around five percent when compared to the last fiscal year.

People this week appear to be no happier with the roads then they were when ABC-13 did its last probe into the city's pothole plague.

"It's gotten worse and worse," said Carlos Romero, who works on Elysian Street, not far from a gaping hole in the road that could double for a bird bath. "It just gets hit and hit. It's awful, man."

James McDaniel lives in an apartment near a yawning, kiddie-pool-sized pit on Fondren Road. The hole is marked by warning signs placed there by Public Works, but those signs have been long since flattened by traffic. The pothole remains.

"The whole apartment vibrates" when vehicles pound through the pothole, McDaniel said. "Everything vibrates."

And a string of drivers on West Airport Boulevard driving by a pothole the size of a baked whole ham and the shape of the sarlacc pit from Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi said they were angry at the lack of progress.

"Those are ditches, those aren't potholes," said motorist Anne Addison. "Those are ditches."

That pothole has been there "a long time," she said.

City officials said that all the boxes have been checked for the new money pledged in 2014 and they are ready to move.

"It's planned to be spent soon," Dargan said. "The normal process, in all honesty, averages about 10 months. This was sped up."

He also said the city's process, while sometimes taking as long as 10 months to get projects approved, is designed to ensure fairness and transparency.

"It should be up and running full speed this month," Dargan said. "There's a process in place that we had to go through to get contractors on board to be able to assist us in spending that money,"

Tomorrow: ABC-13 takes a closer look at the city process to hire contractors and fill potholes. Follow Ted Oberg as he guides viewers through the city's Pothole Wormhole