Editor's note: This story has been updated to include additional information from the Houston Public Works Department.

Blank roads without adequate striping to identify lanes are raising concerns about safety for several members of Houston City Council.

An agenda item that came before the council at a Nov. 9 meeting to authorize a settlement with Professional Traffic Control for pavement marking work completed last year kicked off a conversation among the council members over the issue of road striping altogether.

At-Large Council Member Sallie Alcorn said the issue hit home for her while she was on a drive to her church on San Felipe Street, where she said lanes were indiscernible. She said she called Houston's 311 line, and officials with the Public Works Department told her there was a backlog of 400 striping requests dating back to mid-2020.

However, Erin Jones, interim communications director with Houston Public Works, disputed the use of the word "backlog" to describe the situation. She said some proposed pavement projects may not have met a "service level agreement"—a timeframe that has been agreed upon among the mayor, City Council and the city departments on how long they have to fulfill those requests.

“So it may be considered a backlog in some areas and then others they just may not have met the service level agreement,” she said.

Various council members, such as District C’s Abbie Kamin and District A’s Amy Peck, said they had attempted to use their own respective council district service funds to amend the issue and received different answers.

“We’ve offered to use council district service funds to just get [striping projects] done, and we’re told that we don’t have a contract in place to even do that,” Peck said.

After her call to 311, Alcorn said she received the following statement from the public works department, a copy of which was provided to Community Impact:

"Through connecting with [Transportation & Drainage Operations], our team has learned that the status of the lane striping backlog is a combination of being understaffed and having limited budget availability, which resulted in a long backlog of requests going back as far as mid-2020. The traffic markings requests that cannot be performed in-house (by TDO staff) are performed by a contract (outside contractors), and the contract is not currently active due to legal issues. TDO is working diligently to resolve this situation and expects to resume the pavement marking program soon."

The statement also said no stripers, or striping machines, were at work at the time of Alcorn’s call because there had been no new striping contracts awarded.

“I don’t know what is going on,” Alcorn said. “I’m going to get out there and start painting some stripes pretty soon ’cause it’s bad.”

Vice Mayor Pro Tem Martha Castex-Tatum said in a recent meeting with Public Works Director Carol Haddock, she mentioned with regard to pedestrian crosswalks the possible use of a more sustainable, longer-lasting paint for road markings.

“The comment [from Haddock] was, when you use a different type of paint, it gets more expensive,” Castex-Tatum said. “But I think we should make the investment in a better quality marking so that it lasts longer.”

Throughout the meeting, Mayor Sylvester Turner maintained that this was the first he had heard of the issue. The mayor went on to say that if these issues go to departments and do not make it up the chain to him, he needs to be notified.

“I’m a little embarrassed by this conversation, I will tell you,” said Turner.

The normal timeline for striping contracts, per the service-level agreement between public works staff or contractors and the city, is 28 days.

Jones said the public works department had over 700 requests for pavement markings in March 2020. Since then, 2,476 pavement markings have been completed between in-house public works crews and contractors, she said.

Crews cut the backlog to 513 open requests—including 355 requests for centerline and lane markings. The public works department has received bids for a new contract and plans to clear the backlog by December 2023, Jones said.

A contract was to be awarded at a City Council meeting Dec. 8. Community Impact is awaiting a response from the public works department as to the cause for the delay.