Brand-new Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, in only a few weeks at the helm, is making progress with something that ex-Mayor Annise Parker somehow couldn’t figure out.
Potholes. Thrilling, electrifying potholes.
During Turner’s inauguration speech on Monday, January 4, he told the Jones Hall crowd that he was going to buckle down on the city’s pothole epidemic. In February 2015, Parker called Houston’s oftentimes primitive driving conditions a “crisis situation,” and the Public Works Department made some progress before road conditions once again deteriorated, partially owing to record-setting rains and the Memorial Day floods.
So far, Turner seems to have made good on his promise. According to Janice Evans, chief policy officer and director of communications at the Mayor’s Office, as of midnight, January 11, 316 of 329 (or 96 percent) “actual potholes” were “assessed and addressed” by the next business day. Additionally, 1,246 potholes were “proactively assessed and addressed by the City during this period in addition to the 329 citizen-reported actual potholes,” writes Evans. These figures cover the time period between January 4 and January 10, 2016.
A reason that the pothole improvement initiative is off to a good start: The City of Houston Public Works and Engineering Department is currently pulling a six-day-a-week work schedule, says Evans. (We also reached out to Julie Gilbert, who works in the communications office at the Public Works Department, but she told the Press that Turner’s office is handling all media requests regarding potholes.)
“We anticipate needing to maintain this pace for the meantime. However, we do expect pothole reports to begin to level off sometime after the formal program rollout next week,” says Evans, who adds that the city is unveiling a new pothole program website next week. “There were over 200 reports made [on Wednesday, January 13]. As the number goes up, we expect there will be more duplicates.”
When Public Works downsizes its workweek to a standard five days, will it be able to keep up? How on Houston’s naturally subsiding earth can the department fix every single old and new pothole? Because it's definitely missing some.
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On Wednesday, we left the Galleria area and headed west on San Felipe. In the right lane, with a car directly to our left, we encountered a ghastly, West Alabama-like pothole and began to wonder if there was a jack, an inflated spare and an extra axle or two in the trunk. Somehow, our white knuckles were able to navigate through Meteor Crater unscathed.
According to pothole specifics provided by the Mayor’s Office, this buckled slab of asphalt wasn’t one of the 329 potholes that have been “assessed and addressed” since Turner’s speech.
Maybe that’s because it was one of Houston's many “roadway abysses/black holes/bottomless pits/your car is about to sustain thousands of dollars of damages” – classifications that don’t currently exist – and not a cute little “pothole.”