The effort began with a new prioritization system to find streets with the most critical needs in each of Houston’s 11 City Council districts and plan out repairs for most of the streets rather than full replacement. The system will allow public works to complete projects more quickly and stretch limited public funds further, Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock said.
“When we rehabilitate a street, we spend about $400,000 per mile if it's a major thoroughfare and $160,000 for a local street,” Haddock said. “If we were to completely reconstruct that roadway, we would spend about $3.2 million ... we can do almost six to eight times as many streets in single year.”
The new system aims to repair or replace every city street every 40-70 years, improving on public works’ previous estimate of reaching every street every 110 years, Haddock said. Compared to other cities, however, Haddock said, a standard goal is to reach every street every 15-30 years.
The savings generated by making surface repairs will allow each street project to extend to the sidewalks alongside it, Haddock said. In some cases, public works will also fill in gaps between sidewalks.
As written in city code, Houston’s sidewalks are considered the responsibility of private property owners, which has resulted in a patchwork of poorly kept sidewalk infrastructure in many parts of the city as well as stretches of property with no sidewalks at all.
Previously, city officials said taking on the responsibility of sidewalk work beyond individual requests would present too steep of a financial burden for the public works department.
Mayor Sylvester Turner however, said improving the city’s street rehabilitation process was a goal of his second term.
“People with disabilities make up 9.4% of people within the city of Houston, so it's exciting that we are looking at infrastructure from a holistic standpoint,” said Gabe Cazares, director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.
Turner’s original promise to address the issue within 60 days of his inauguration in January was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
The first projects will take place primarily in north and south Houston until the end of 2020. Council districts are given priority based on the number of miles of streets within their boundaries.
This year, public works aims to complete 300 lane miles of street repairs, which is double what the department completed in 2019 and four times as much as the department completed in 2016, Haddock said.