Bellaire considers new drainage criteria for prioritizing road projects

Bellaire City Council
Bellaire City Council discussed proposed changes to how it prioritizes road projects at its Nov. 18 meeting. (Alex Hosey/Community Impact Newspaper)

Bellaire City Council discussed proposed changes to how it prioritizes road projects at its Nov. 18 meeting. (Alex Hosey/Community Impact Newspaper)

As the city considers new criteria for prioritizing future road projects, Bellaire Mayor Andrew Friedberg said the city should break with tradition and assign greater value to drainage benefits overall.



“For years I have actually questioned the 60-40 split,” Friedberg said, referring to the 60% weight given to drainage factors versus the 40% for road conditions. “70% is kind of the starting point, minimum, for me. I certainly could entertain going higher than that.”



Under recommendations presented to City Council on Nov. 18 and developed by city staff through the Flood Hazard Mitigation Task Force, the city is recommending keeping the 60-40 weighting in order to balance drainage needs as well as to maintain its roadways, but it is recommending adding more drainage-related criteria to the mix.



“What we’re looking for an objective, scientific approach to giving priority to projects,” Director of Public Works Michael Leach told Community Impact Newspaper. “It’s a tool to help us plan.”



Under one proposed change, the city would apply a cost-benefit calculation that uses the age of the homes along a street and their average repair costs during Hurricane Harvey as one way to evaluate the priority of a street rebuild.



These costs per structure range from $30,000 for homes built before 1980 on the low end to $80,000 for homes built between 1995 and 2004. Homes built after 2004 have lower damage costs at $50,000. These figures would represent costs avoided by implementing a street rebuild, officials said.



“This could be politically interpreted as, 'Old houses are getting the short end of the deal, and new houses are getting more benefit' ... whether it works out that way, I don’t know,” Council Member Pat McLaughlin said. “But perception is king.”



The criteria would only apply to future street reconstruction, not maintenance, overlays, potholes and other minor repairs, Leach said. Those items would be covered by the annual Pavement Management Program, he said.



But the criteria could be applied to an anticipated $970,000 in remaining bond funds as well as to a $4.3 million federal grant the city expects to receive in the coming months.



Other changes proposed include factoring in the number of structures flooded on a street and the number of structures served by a road’s underground storm sewer. However, the city recommended against using Hurricane Harvey rainfall data as part of its drainage benefit calculations.



The current criteria were implemented prior to the Bonds for Better Bellaire program in 2016; they use a mix of eight drainage criteria and roads' pavement condition to assign a score to each possible project. The pavement condition was measured in 2015 with the help of a consultant, which assigned a score based on status of the roadway.



Leach said the city would take council’s feedback and return the item for further review at another council meeting.

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