Construction on a sewer line improvement project is slated to begin in early 2024 in the Westridge neighborhood in Houston, but some residents said the city of Houston has moved away from badly needed street improvements that they had been looking forward to for more than a decade.

The overview

Construction is slated to begin on the $6.4 million sewer project in early 2024 and will run through the spring of 2025, according to information from Houston Public Works.

Work will entail relining a 120-inch trunk sewer along a city of Houston drainage easement that runs between Timberside Drive and Bevlyn Drive, from the Loop 610 westbound feeder road to South Braeswood Boulevard. Crews will also enhance the storm sewer inlets and manholes along the line.

The details

Work will be carried out in five phases:
  • Winter-spring 2024: Loop 610 feeder road to north of Sun Valley Drive
  • Spring-summer 2024: North of Sun Valley Drive to south of Elmridge Street
  • Summer-fall 2024: South of Elmridge Street to south of Saint Nicholas School
  • Fall 2024-winter 2025: South of Saint Nicholas School to Gannett Street
  • Winter-spring 2025: Gannett Street to South Braeswood Boulevard
The backyards of some properties do extend into the city's easement where the work will take place, HPW officials said. Crews may need to access backyards during construction of properties that are closer to manholes along the line, officials said. No front yards will be affected.

The backstory

When Rebuild Houston was launched in 2010 as a way to prioritize capital projects in the city, Westridge and the nearby Braes Terrace were both included on the city's "worst first" list, as were other neighborhoods in the area, such as Woodside, Linkwood and Knollwood Village.

Although other neighborhoods saw improvements made to their streets in the coming years, Westridge and Braes Terrace wound up on the back burner, seeing additional delays when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017.

Westridge is bordered on east by Buffalo Speedway and on the west by Bevlyn Drive. It contains about 200 homes in total.

What happened

Earlier iterations of the drainage project dating back to 2013 would've involved building a new drainage system under each street within the neighborhood. Because of that, streets throughout Westridge would've also been repaired, and the cost of building new streets was included in the project estimates.

However, when new rainfall data was incorporated into the drainage analysis after Harvey, HPW officials said building under the street no longer provided enough drainage benefits to justify the cost of the work. The project was changed to target the sewer line between Timberside Drive and Bevlyn, and no longer involved any street improvements at all.

What they're saying

Westridge residents Melissa Schafer, Lynn Chorn and Georgia Bouchoutsos are among those who said they have already been waiting too long for street improvements that are badly needed. Sidewalks are lacking, and streets conditions are dangerous to walk on, especially for older and disabled residents, Chorn said.

With the sewer project now moving forward without any street improvements, the three women said they feel the community was betrayed and shortchanged. Because Westridge was included in the city's capital improvements plan for many years, it was excluded from routine maintenance, Schafer said.

"In the next 10 years, none of those things got any better; they all got worse," she said.

When new street lights were still considered part of the plan, Chorn said Westridge residents were also encouraged to fundraise among themselves to help accelerate the process, which they did. Chorn said residents found out in July that street improvements were no longer considered part of the project, which they said they were blindsided by.

Streets traveling through surrounding communities, including Woodside and Knollwood Village, have been improved more recently and are notably nicer, Bouchoutsos said.

"It’s like you cross over a certain demarcation point, and you go from third world to first world," she said. "Their infrastructure gets super upgraded with lights, drainage and streets."

Some of those neighborhoods had the streets improved through the city's petition process, which is generally no longer used, HPW officials said.

Zooming in

Jane Shinn, 83, has lived in Westridge for 40 years and was part of efforts to gin up neighborhood support for street improvements that she said date back 30 years.

She said she and her husband, Tim Mock, used to walk the streets more often, but they have since stopped because of how difficult they are to walk on. Shinn said she has fallen three times, sustaining bruises and requiring surgery as a result.

"If I had good sidewalks and streets, I would feel more comfortable about walking now," Shinn said. "Sometimes I drive a half a block down my own street. If I want to go out for the evening, if it’s not lit well and it's not a very good street, it’s uncomfortable."

Although Shinn and Mock said they are glad to at least see the drainage elements of the project moving forward, Chorn said she remains concerned about street flooding and how well it will truly be addressed if the streets aren't graded.

After a small pipe burst in her front yard in August, Schafer said it caused water to trickle into the street for about six weeks. One week after the pipe was fixed, 6 inches of water remained in front of her driveway, she said. Water sits for weeks after each rain, she said.

Zooming out

HPW officials said the project was always focused on drainage and structural flooding, and that the scope of the project did not change.

HPW officials said they are encouraging residents to pursue street, sidewalk and streetlight improvements through other city of Houston programs. Residents can apply to a street light assessment to determine where new street lights are needed.

For street improvements, Stephen Lu, an engineer with the city's Transportation and Drainage Operations department, said the city keeps a list of streets in need of rehabilitation that is prioritized based on pavement condition data, ride quality data and sometimes traffic demand data. Field evaluations are conducted every fiscal year, Lu told residents at a Sept. 28 virtual meeting to discuss the project, and projects are added and prioritized within the city's five-year capital improvements plan.

HPW can also look at addressing specific bad spots in the pavement, Lu said. The main issues in Westridge relate to the pavement's deteriorating asphalt surface, Lu said, as opposed to the base pavement structure and subgrade.

"The subgrade and base are generally in good condition," Lu said at the Sept. 28 meeting. "It's the surface course that wears out. ... In some areas, it's very deteriorated and gravelly. There are cracks where the pavement has expanded and contracted in different areas."

To improve street conditions, the city would mill off the top 2 inches of asphalt and put on a new layer of fresh asphalt to make streets smoother, Lu said. However, he said a project like that typically wouldn't be tackled until after other capital projects in the area, such as the sewer project, are completed.

"We'll be looking at trying to get that done ... as soon as possible, one of the next [fiscal years], as soon as we can program that in there," Lu said.

Other issues can be reported to the city of Houston's maintenance department and don't strictly have to be addressed through capital improvements, officials said.

At an Oct. 11 Houston City Council meeting, District K council member Martha Castex-Tatum—who represents the Westridge area—said she would reach out to HPW Director Carol Haddock to see how the city could address resident concerns. In an email to Community Impact, an HPW spokesperson confirmed the department was working with Castex-Tatum on how to address resident requests.

Community Impact has reached out to the District K office for comment.

What's next?

Officials with HPW said they will host another virtual community meeting closer to the start of the construction phase of the drainage project to let residents in the work area know how they can prepare for construction.

Meanwhile, Bouchoutsos, Chorn and Schafer said they want to see the project reinstated as it was outlined in 2017.

"There's a lot of emotion here because we’ve been waiting for this for a very, very long time," Chorn said. "The streets were old 30 years ago. This is so far beyond old. This is like a different planet."