On Wednesday, Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research confirmed that Mayor Sylvester Turner is not kidding about obliterating Houston’s pot holes.
Kinder Institute researchers set out to make sure that the stats Turner has been keeping on the pothole project's very own website, houstonpotholes.org, are accurate. Between January 4 and February 16, Public Works crews have filled a total of 9,815 potholes — 1,976 of which were reported by citizens on 311 calls. Ninety-five percent of the time, crews fixed potholes reported by citizens within the next business day, as Turner promised upon taking office.
When Kinder did its own analysis of the data, it turned out correct.
“This independent verification confirms that we are delivering on the promise to quickly respond to pothole complaints,” Turner said at a press conference. “This is an example of the new level of customer service I expect city employees to deliver. Now it’s time for us to focus on achieving success for more complicated street repairs.”
Those more complicated repairs include things like street paving and panels that need to be repaired on skid patches — more extensive work that may be covered under ReBuild Houston, an initiative to repair Houston’s streets and drainage infrastructure. If a citizen calls in a pothole that falls under an existing ReBuild Houston project or larger repair project, that pothole won’t be fixed. Potholes also won’t be fixed if they’re on private property or if the crew doesn’t think they're actually hazards. The Kinder Institute recommended that the city find a better way to make this clear to 311 callers, so as to avoid angering citizens.
As for funding the pothole obliteration, Turner said that the city is only using existing funds and those left over from Mayor Annise Parker’s $10 million initiative to do the same.
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But to continue at this rate, he said the city might have to expand repair funds for 2017’s budget — and given Turner’s promise to make budget “sacrifices,” that could be tricky.
Toward the end of the press conference, Turner explained that, to shrink the budget, layoffs will be necessary. The only city employees who won’t be at risk, he said, are police officers. He said he would be “reluctant” to lay off firefighters, but won’t take it off the table. He has also proposed to cut each individual council member’s allotted $1 million budget, used for various projects in their districts, by 75 percent.
“My hope is that we can put forth a budget that minimizes the number of layoffs, and that's why I’ve asked everyone to engage in a shared sacrifice, including the members of city council who are sitting around the table today.”
While Turner said that filling potholes will remain a priority, whether a potential laid-off firefighter agrees is perhaps a different question. The budget's due out this June.