Houston Is Turning The Tide On Potholes
In the City of Houston, Texas, potholes have long been a major bane and a great source of frustration for drivers. That’s why Mayor Sylvester Turner made solving the issue a large part of his campaign in 2015. What’s more, once he was elected, Mayor Turner made good on his promise, and this large city – the nation’s fourth largest, with 16,000 lane miles of paved roadway – has managed to turn the tide on potholes, as it has made progress in less than two years.
For years, in spite of technical assistance such as an online pothole reporting system and 311 call center, the City of Houston had been in triage mode when it came to filling its potholes, trying to keep up with demand from the public. In fact, cities across the U.S. are under a tremendous amount of pressure to keep up with their 311 or other automated systems for pothole reporting by the public. But with tight budgets and outdated methods for repairing these potholes, street maintenance departments often fall into a vicious cycle of repairing a location – and then re-repairing it several weeks later. In fact, according to Strategic Highway Research Program* (SHRP) reports, using poor materials and bad practices for repairs are the leading cause of road deterioration. The ideal solution, of course, is to quickly repair the pothole with quality materials and methods to avoid re-work and further road degeneration.
Mayor Turner promised in his inaugural address on January 4, 2016, that properly reported potholes to the City’s 311 line, smartphone app or online tracker would be assessed and addressed by the next business day.** He also noted a goal to have them repaired in that time frame. The response was huge. Where December 2015 saw a total of 423 pothole reports entered as work requests into the city’s Infrastructure Management System (IMS), in January 2016, that number jumped more than 6 times – to 2,608 service requests. But city crews were able to keep up with the work; at the end of that month, Mayor Turner announced that the City had met his goal of a next-day repair 94 percent of the time. In addition, the number of requests has gone down overall in the past 18 months, and city residents seem to be satisfied with the current system Houston has in place.
So what did Houston do differently?
For one thing, the City redefined its definition of a pothole to encompass damaged pavement up to 25 sq. ft. Punchouts also joined the list as potholes. This allowed Houston’s fleet of pothole patching equipment (including 21 All-In-One Bergkamp FP5 Flameless Pothole Patchers) to focus on actual potholes.***
Additionally, the Street Maintenance division of the Public Works Department centralized all forces from four quadrants to one primary location. The city added an asphalt material contract with a second vendor, providing crews with additional pickup locations for more efficient travel time to repair locations. Modern technology allows for scheduling, routing, and closing repairs. The City implemented new standard operating procedures as well as a QA/QC group to ensure the accuracy of all data recorded. And the division boosted employee morale by engaging employees and front-line supervisors in weekly meetings in regards to process improvement efforts.
Houston’s fleet of FP5 patchers provided a major contribution to Houston’s pothole initiative success. The FP5 has all the equipment needed to do the right patch with the right materials, which is a great benefit to cities that must respond to the volume of reported potholes. Employing an all-in-one patching method that removes all distressed asphalt and leaving only sound material, it provides a long-term, semi-permanent to permanent patch solution with a professional appearance Learn More!
The success Houston has found with its quick- and quality-oriented pothole program since January 2016 has been considered a public relations victory for Mayor Turner. The City’s Pothole Tracker website page (http://www.houstontx.gov/potholes) shows citizens that the City is listening – and responding – a move that has resulted in overall greater confidence in Houston’s 311 and online reporting process. Of course, the greatest cause for residents’ growing satisfaction has been what they have seen and felt as they travel the city’s roadways – with potholes filled in a manner that will make the repair last.
***For repairs of more than 25 sq. ft., in-house crews performed partial and full depth skin patch repairs on asphaltic streets at a different time. Houston also added contractors to assist with their backlog of skin patch repairs.