For years, Houston has under-invested in streets and infrastructure, and no where does it go more noticed than in Ellen Cohen’s City Council District C. The district includes west central Houston from north of the Houston Heights through the Inner Loop to south of Bellaire.
“Every time we have a CIP meeting, I am struck by — impressed with — the passion people have,” Cohen said. “I understand the frustration. We have the worst-first (Rebuild Houston program), and if it’s their street, it’s the worst.”
She said her hope is, that by 2020, there will be so much construction happening, the complaints become, “We can’t get around because of all the work going on!”
That’s not to say there’s nothing being done in District C right now. Officials who joined Cohen for the annual Capital Improvement Plan meeting held March 5 described a long list of projects either recently completed, planned or under way. They include Bethel Church and Mandell parks, multiple waterline replacements, and street and drainage projects, to name a few. Citywide, the current five-year CIP totals $1.25 billion.
Even more projects are slated, according to the proposed 10-year CIP, which is being drafted through April and reaches City Council for review and approval in May and June. The hand-out from Cohen’s CIP meeting lists 19 street and traffic control projects through fiscal 2019, and 14 others identified as “need areas” in the Rebuild Houston Five+Five Year Plan through fiscal 2024.
Dale Rudick, who directs Rebuild Houston for the city’s Public Works and Engineering Department, said Houston has more lane miles, 16,000, than there are interstate highway in the U.S., but the city’s level of investment in them is about 30 percent of what it should be. Voter approval of the Rebuild Houston program in 2011 is beginning to change that, he said. The program added a drainage fee and, beginning next month, a developer impact fee to existing revenue sources and will shift the city’s infrastructure funding from debt financing to pay-as-you-go.
“It’s not an immediate fix, but it is a continuous stream of funding we’ll be able to enjoy,” he said.
According to Rudick, the city had about $9 million available for pay-as-you-go projects annually before the Rebuild Houston program. Now, that figure is about $20 million, and as existing debt is retired in the next 20 years, the amount will increase to more than $300 million, he said.
But, like Cohen noted, some projects can’t move up the list fast enough.
West Alabama was on the priority list of requests from residents at last year’s meeting. And while a portion of it from Shepherd to Spur 527 is on the draft CIP for fiscal 2018, the tenor of frustration about it rang a little higher this year.
Steve Longmire, a resident of First Montrose Commons, points out West Alabama is one of two east-west thoroughfares, and the other one, Richmond Avenue, is off the city’s radar while it remains part of Metropolitan Transit Authority’s light rail plans.
“Two years ago we were told it would get a skin job soon. That’s not anywhere in here,” Longmire said.
“We have to wait four more years, maybe five, after which 10,000 more people will be here with these high-rises, all driving on these roads.”
PWE’s Dan Menendez said CIP projects advance in an orderly fashion. The city will continue to repair and rehabilitate streets like West Alabama until the funding is available for reconstruction, Menendez said.
“I know it’s not what you want, but it’s what we can do,” he said.