When it comes to driving the streets of Houston, it seems everyone has a horror story.
“Mmm, bad shape,” Shameka Wolford said when asked about the condition of the streets. “Bad shape.”
“Look at my car,” said Johntrell Galvan, pointing to chipped paint and a damaged fog light. “My car’s messed up because of the city streets.” And drivers say the problems aren’t limited to a single part of the city.
“I work construction and we’re all over the city,” explained Angel Guererro. “It’s everywhere. It’s not just in a certain area anymore.”
KHOU 11 Investigates used the city’s Pavement Condition Index to uncover some of the worst stretches of city streets. The PCI looks at factors like roughness and cracking and then rates each section of road on a scale from 100 down to zero.
A score of 100 indicates a perfect road. But “perfect” hardly describes Scooter Richardelle’s commute.
“Look at these holes,” said Richardelle as he drove along Breen Drive near Houston Rosslyn Road. Six days a week his drive to work takes him along the crumbling stretch of street.
“Both sides are trash,” said Richardelle. “They’re wrecked. Potholes everywhere.” The city’s PCI for that segment of Breen is a “12” out of 100.
“Wow, that’s not good at all,” said Richardelle when KHOU 11 Investigates told him about the rating. While Breen may be bad, it’s not the worst city street.
Armed with the city’s ratings, KHOU 11 Investigates hit the road with Dr. Lu Gao, director of the University of Houston’s Civil Infrastructure Systems Management Lab and Mahreen Nabi, a graduate student in Transportation Planning and Management at Texas Southern University.
The pair helped measure the roughness of the roads.
“For good pavement, it’s (the measurement) really around one-point-five,” explained Gao. “Three is kind of a threshold. Above three you really consider it bad pavement in terms of roughness.”
It didn’t take long to find bad pavement.
“I think we just had above four,” explained Gao as he traveled along Patterson Road on Houston’s west side.
Most of the pavement on the stretch of Patterson near the Addicks Reservoir rates between a “10” and “19.”
“Yeah, this is really bad,” said Gao as the van bumped along.
Across town, on Crenshaw Road near Yes Prep Southeast the ride wasn’t much better. Most sections of that road scored between a “2” and “32.” To the north, near Bush Intercontinental Airport, Greens Road near Lee Road rated an “11.”
“Would you want to have to drive that to and from work every day?” KHOU 11 Investigates asked Gao.
“Definitely not,” Gao said. “This road is really bad shape.”
In the Sixth Ward, one residential section of Crockett Street had a zero for its pavement condition score.
“I don’t think you can fix the extensive cracking with patches,” said Gao. “It’s everywhere.” So how can the city let its streets get so bad?
“Well, over time it can’t be helped,” explained Eric Dargan, Deputy Director of Houston’s Department of Public Works and Engineering. He explained any time a street’s rating drops below “40” it’s considered for reconstruction.
“It’s going to degrade over time each year…Is that what we want? No. Do we have enough money to go in and reconstruct every street under 40, no we don’t,” Dargan said.
Instead, he says the city looks for groupings of roads in one area that need major repairs in an effort to get the biggest bang for the city’s buck.
“We have not given as much attention to maintenance in the past,” said Dargan. “So we’re getting there. We’re not where we need to be, but we’re moving in a positive direction.” But in the meantime, that leaves deteriorating roads like Campbell on Houston’s Northwest side, and a mangled stretch of Memorial Drive near Eldridge. Both streets had low pavement condition scores.
But of the streets surveyed, Gao called Brittmoore just south of Highway 290 the worst. “Cracking, a lot of cracking,” Gao observed. “This is really bad.”
The bumpy rides can cost drivers more than just their patience. “If the roughness of the pavement is high, I will have to spend more money on my car maintenance,” explained Gao.
In fact, a 2015 report by the non-profit transportation research group TRIP found that Houston drivers spend an additional $772 annually on vehicle maintenance because of poor road conditions. But Dargan believes things aren’t that bad.
“My letter grade that I would give? I think we’re a ‘B,” said Dargan when asked to grade the city’s streets. That’s because the numbers show less than 10% of Houston’s road segments are in bad condition.
But that still means roughly 1,600 miles of streets are crumbling and for drivers stuck on those rough rides, a fix can’t come fast enough.
“All I can do is bite my tongue sometimes and just shake my head and go on,” said Richardelle.
But there’s bad news for Richardelle. According to a list of streets the city is planning to re-pave or rebuild, Breen Road did not make the list.
Here is a list of capital improve plan (CIP) projects provided by Public Works to KHOU 11 Investigates: