Takin’ It to the Streets: Airing the Dirty Laundry

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

     Taking care of residential streets is a lot like doing laundry.  It is one of those thankless, never-ending chores.  People only notice if somebody fails to do it or fails to do it correctly.  Just as careless loading of the washer can dye underwear pink and evoke disappointment and even anger in the owner of the clothing, a pothole or a  dip in the road can spill coffee in a driver’s lap or damage the front end of his car, evoking the same disappointment and anger.

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        Seven months ago, the nine members of the Ad Hoc Residential Infrastructure Advisory Committee volunteered to tackle the 150-year-old problem of streets in Corpus Christi and came to the realization that “fixing” the streets could not happen with one trip to the Laundromat, even if they had a pocketful of quarters.  The committee discovered that lack of enough money to fix the streets is just one of many problems facing the City, all of which the committee outlines in a 41-page final report along with the committee’s recommendations for solving the problems.  (Read the full report here.)

     Some of the problems listed in the report:

  • The City has a 150-year history of bad roads resulting from outdated materials, methods, and designs; a harsh environment; poor road base, drainage, and utility facilities; and periods of under-spending in maintenance and reconstruction.
  • There is not enough money to re-build all residential streets in their entirety.
  • Only about 32% of every dollar spent on streets goes to fixing the surface of the street; other costs:  ADA – 5%, curb/gutter – 30%, utilities – 33%.
  • The City does not have a reliable method for determining the cost to build a mile of streets because currently it only keeps track of invoices presented by contractors, which does not indicate a particular cost for a particular volume of work.
  • The City primarily uses the IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity), which gives access to qualified contractors but impairs the City’s ability to hire a substitute contractor in the event that the awarded contractor does not produce a quality product efficiently.  Smaller contractors cannot afford to bid smaller projects with the City because of the City’s slow method of payment.
  • The City spends tens of millions of dollars each year in payment to contractors.  Currently, the Engineering Department handles this process, “which includes people who have professional ties with the entities that work on or have a history of being on both sides of the table.  In addition, these same people often serve as the authority within the City with respect to pursuit of contract claims or enforcement,” giving the appearance of a conflict of interest.
  • The City is using outdated methods of record keeping, materials management, and labor management.  For example, street inspections and materials/labor tallies are recorded in the field on paper and submitted manually, and contracts are still manually circulated for signatures.
  • The City currently uses the Engineering department to manage projects and perform jobs that construction managers could easily handle.  The committee contends that engineers do not always make the best project managers.
  • Due to lack of City crews and under-compensation, a great deal of turnover exists, which ultimately leads to project delays which results in more dollars spent on a particular job.
  • Data reveals that seal coats and overlays have not necessarily preserved the life of the streets.
  • No real cycle for maintenance and reconstruction of existing residential streets is in place.
  • Not all developers are expected to adhere to street construction standards because of “grandfathering”, so substandard streets are still being built.
  • Arterial and collector streets, the roads most traveled, are in great need of repair, too.
  • Standing water due to ineffective storm water drainage significantly degrades the streets.
  • The SPMP, now in year 2, is well behind schedule in its current efforts to do seal coats and overlays.

     As the report points out, it took years of physical and fiscal neglect to generate the piles upon piles of dirty laundry, and it will take years to get the old loads finished while simultaneously handling the new loads being generated each day.  As the mom faced with weeks of dirty clothes brought home by a college student, the City must simply get started and work at the problem of streets one load at a time.  The job is easier, faster, and more efficient if the City will go about the chore methodically using the best machines and detergents affordable, as is outlined in the report.  The nine-member, highly-skilled committee spent over seven months collecting all the pertinent data, researching best practices, digging into possible funding solutions, and developing a program that will work if the City will just implement what is recommended.  Waiting any longer to start the process will only make the already stinky job smell worse and the cost to the taxpayer even more expensive.

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Takin’ It to the Streets: Mystery Solved

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

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     When people attempt to solve a problem, they are either dealing with a puzzle or a mystery, two forms of deception.  Puzzles have a single answer; once that answer is apparent, the puzzle is solve.  Puzzles exist when there is not enough information.  Mysteries, on the other hand, have an abundance of information.  A mystery requires a skilled sleuth to collect the facts, sift through the plethora of data, make observations, question the relevant players, and arrive at a solution to the problem.
     Malcolm Gladwell, writer and journalist, said, “If things go wrong with a puzzle, identifying the culprit is easy: it’s the person who withheld information. Mysteries, though, are a lot murkier: sometimes the information we’ve been given is inadequate, and sometimes we aren’t very smart about making sense of what we’ve been given, and sometimes the question itself cannot be answered. Puzzles come to satisfying conclusions. Mysteries often don’t. Enter Andy Taubman and his team of street detectives, aka the Corpus Christi Ad Hoc Residential Street Infrastructure Advisory Committee.
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Committee
     The Corpus Christi City Council empaneled the nine-member group to gather the facts and make recommendations to get the most out of every dollar spent on residential streets and to suggest the best way to go about fixing the problem.  This team of dedicated citizens spent over seven months digging into every aspect of street construction in Corpus Christi, including poring over the limited historical data, examining the current methods for tackling the streets, talking with contractors and analyzing current contracting methods used by the City, working with City Staff to collect information, exploring potential financing solutions, seeking alternative methods of street construction, and actually driving the streets of the city to identify the real problems. Then, they generated a 41-page document of these findings, which will be presented to the City Council in June.  They even included a really handy section devoted to defining the “street language” in the document.  The report focuses on 7 areas:
  1. Identification of the current residential street problem;
  2. Observation of what is good and bad about the current residential street reconstruction process;
  3. Creation of the TAR (The Targeted Area Reclamation), a proactive, intensive maintenance cycle applied throughout the City to extend the functional life of streets until reconstruction can occur through the Residential Street Rebuild (Rework & Reconstruction);
  4. Prioritization of street rebuilding according to a process that considers road condition, safety, maintenance history, proximity to schools, population density, utility coordination, transportation coordination, and road network connectivity;
  5. Explanation of funding scenarios of $10 million, $14 million, $15 million, $17 million, and $20 million per year;
  6. Identification of possible funding sources for the proposed new residential street programs, including RTA Funding of City Street Aspects,  Budget Savings and/or Reallocation of Existing Dollars, Dedicated General Fund and Industrial District Revenue, Re-purposed Whataburger Field Debt Service Funds, Charter Revision for Additional Dedicated Operations and Maintenance Property Tax Revenue, Dedicated Spending from Revenue Growth, and Ad Valorem Tax Increase.
    
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     There will, no doubt, be questions about the findings, as there most certainly should be.  It’s part of the process.  However, the best part about this whole story is that the nine “detectives” will have answers, answers founded in good information.  The report they have generated leaves nothing to guesswork, so the council members will certainly be able to solve the mystery about what to do with our residential streets, something that has never been done and that many thought was not even possible.  Hats off to this dedicated and hard-working group of skilled citizens! They have been good and faithful servants of the people.

 

 

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Takin’ It to the Streets: Committee Examines How PCI Affects Street Repair

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page

     What is PCI (Pavement Condition Index), and how does this number decide if your street is in need of repair or reconstruction?  According to information on the City of Corpus Christi website,  “Streets are inspected and assessed using a Micro–PAVER Pavement Management System. Twenty pavement distresses (their type, severity, and quantity) are used to determine a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) for each section of a street. The PCI is like a grade, 0 to 100, 100 being the best. The PCI is used as a planning tool for street work. Streets with a PCI in the range of 0 to 55 are considered Poor and are candidates for reconstruction. Streets with a PCI in the range of 56 to 100 are considered to be in Fair to Good condition and are candidates for Preventative Maintenance.”  The map below indicates PCI of all city streets.  Red indicates a rating of 0-10, orange 11-39, yellow 40-54, and green 55-100.  (For a closer look at a specific street, click on this  link to access an interactive map.)

PCI Map

     This same site has a written explanation of the criteria used to determine overall street condition: pavement condition (PCI), curb and gutter, drainage, ADA (American Disability Act) requirements, and underground utilities.  It also states, “The SPMP is for applying preventative maintenance to streets that are still in Good condition. It is not designed to fund reconstruction of those streets that are in POOR condition.  Streets with a PCI in the range of 56 to 100 are considered to be in Fair to Good condition and are candidates for preventative maintenance, which includes seal coats or overlays.” Seal Coating adds a wear surface that lasts up to 7 years, while overlays can last up to 10 years.  A street with a PCI of 17, such as the one depicted in the photos below, is obviously in need of something more drastic than a seal coat or overlay.  Unfortunately, that requires a completely different kind of repair, such as full reconstruction, which is typically funded by a bond.

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South end of Sentinel Drive in Flour Bluff
North end of Sentinel Drive in Flour Bluff
North end of Sentinel Drive in Flour Bluff

     Two of the ad hoc street committee members, Andy Taubman and Kyle Pape, took a drive around town to get a real look at the residential streets.  What they found was rather revealing.  For example, they discovered that PCI varied greatly even for similarly situated streets.  Hosea, Joel, and Amos were built in 2007 and have basically the same kind of traffic, yet their PCI ratings vary greatly, especially Joel’s.  They also found that streets classified as “failing” are actually stable, such as Vista Ridge Drive in the Calallen area, and may deserve a higher rating.  Furthermore, though some streets have lots of alligator cracks and a PCI of 1, as is the case with Dodd, the ride itself is not bad.  The road is just ugly.

Poor Joel

PCI Dodd

     Some roads Taubman and Pape found to be dangerous.  These streets had more than just potholes.  Some, such as Yorktown Boulevard at Rodd Field and Hearn Road looking east at Callicoatte Road, have a bad case of “right lane sag” which creates a sensation in the driver of running off the road because the car pulls to the right.  Other roads have jarring dips, as on Orlando Street.  This condition has the potential to damage a car, which can cause anxiety in drivers.  Other streets have holes or washed out areas at the turn edge.  The northeast corner of McClendon at Staples has just such a problem, which could also cause damage to vehicles.  Still other roads are simply too narrow for two vehicles and oftentimes are without shoulders.  At night, this kind of road (i.e. Don Patricio in Flour Bluff) gives the driver the feeling that oncoming vehicles are approaching them head on.  These kinds of conditions do not figure into the PCI, but they do figure into what some might call the OSI (Oh, S#*@! Index).

PCI Jarring Dip
Jarring Dip
PCI Narrow Road
Narrow Road
PCI Turn Edge Damage
Turn Edge Damage
PCI Right Lane Sag
Right Lane Sag

     After examining the PCI data provided by city staff and then actually cruising the streets of Corpus Christi, Taubman and Pape put together a presentation for the Street Committee that outlined their findings.  First, streets with a PCI of 0 to 10 do not necessarily drive worse than streets with a PCI less than 55.  Second, actual ride quality is mostly independent of PCI and does not take into consideration dangerous situations.  Third, some seal-coat roads that have a high PCI may actually produce a poor ride.  Fourth, citizens don’t care as much about alligator cracking as they do hazardous driving conditions.  Last, maybe the City should consider that PCI is not the best management objective and consider devising a better plan for prioritizing the streets slated for maintenance – with safety concerns topping the list.  By doing so, they can spend the allotted street maintenance funds more efficiently and actually address streets that the citizens know are in dire need of repair.

     The Street Committee also reviewed if the City was getting its moneys-worth from the seal coat and overlay programs.  The City does these treatments to preserve the life of streets that are in good condition and uses the street fee added to everyone’s water bill to do them.  The review consisted of looking at the road quality to see if the treatments had protected the roads as expected over time.  What the Committee found is that it appeared that seal coats were not as effective as planned.  Overlays did not have enough history to provide definitive results, but the small data set did not inspire confidence of maintained quality either.  The City cites many reasons why this occurred and hopes to improve the process going forward.  The Committee recommends that this analysis continue to see if the situation improves or stays the same.

PCI Overlay Cohort

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Takin’ It to the Streets: A Highly Qualified Committee

Corpus Christi, Front Page

    

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     On October 27, 2015, nine dedicated citizens set sail on the CC Ad Hoc Residential Street Committee, on a seven-month voyage through oceans of engineering, accountability, and information sharing documents as they celebrate the successes of the current program, identify areas in need of improvement, and develop a plan of action for moving forward.  This is the first of a series of articles that serves to log their progress and offer information and insights into the picture that is so much bigger than the pothole at the end of the street.

     The Corpus Christi Caller lists the members as:

  • Chris Duff, 43, is a  Realtor who views the streets through the eyes of prospective residents;
  • Toby Futrell, 61, is a retired city manager from Austin who hopes to offer a different perspective on an old problem;
  • Alan Guggenheim, 65, is a civil engineer and conservative thinker with an analytical mind who seeks to develop an improved plan that is cost-effective;
  • Javier Huerta, 44, is an architect and former Planning Commission chairman who wants a cost-effective plan that achieves good results and more accountability while creating more competition among contractors;
  • Kyle Pape, 41, is an engineering consultant who offers his project management skills to help find the lowest-cost solutions to the problem of residential streets;
  • Darrell Scanlan, 50, is a chemical engineer and lifetime resident who wants to make his hometown better by offering his expertise in the areas of business and construction;
  • James Skrobarczyk, 65, is a real estate broker who specializes in real estate development, construction, and sales in the Corpus Christi, Texas area, and whose love for the area motivates him to help find an answer to the street problems;
  • Richard Stracener, 59, is a heavy machinery salesman who has called Corpus Christi home for over 50 years wants to find ways to save money while increasing the longevity of the streets;
  • Andy Taubman, 48, a real estate investor and manager serves as the chairman of the committee and hopes to create public trust in the city government by implementing his Infrastructure Committee Plan  which outlines the role of the committee and was approved by City Council on October 20, 2015.

     The committee is subject to the Open Meetings Act and meets at City Hall on the first Monday and third Wednesday of every month at 4:00 p.m. As of this writing, the committee has had five meetings, the first two being organizational in nature.  Andy Taubman was elected chairman and Javier Juerta, vice-chairman.  The committee discussed its purpose and expectations, established subcommittees, and proposed dates for presentations from each subcommittee.  An online message board was set up to keep the public informed, and an ccStreetCommittee@gmail.com account was created to accept public feedback.  Valerie Gray, Executive Director of Public Works, gave a presentation on Street Operations and the Street Improvement Plan Strategies.  Additional information was provided by Andy Leal, Interim Director of Street Operations, and Jeffrey Edmonds, Director of Engineering Services.

 

(This is the first of several articles covering the work of the residential street committee.)

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Unplugging into the Outdoors

Education, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial, Outdoors

 

    Kyle and Carson Pape“Get off the video games and go outside!”  How many times have I said that in the last 5 years?

     Even though I don’t particularly enjoy yelling about video games to the kids, I probably do it several times a week. I played my share growing up (maybe I still test a few just to make sure they are safe for the kids), but the older I get, and the more ingrained I see computers, video games, and other forms of technology take hold in our society, the more I feel moved to remove myself from it. Getting my kids involved in hunting and fishing is the way I see to unplug from all the technology we have in our lives, slow down, and inject activities that aren’t forced at the speed of a button push.

     Kids today lead extremely systematic lives with limited recess, extended school hours, increased testing, and more homework. In general, the academic expectations are higher across the board than ever before. Expectations are important, but with the volume of expectations our young ones are under these days, it’s just as important for them to decompress as it is for us. Long day at work? Meetings all day? Our kids do this day in, day out.

     Although I have absolutely no professional training, license, or work experience in child psychology (other than having 4 kids of my own), my personal opinion is that video games, computers, and other forms of like technology are responsible for the instant gratification mindset we too often see in kids. Perhaps, it could even be extended to causes of ADHD issues, as well. How do you help your children learn patience, when so much of their life revolves around an instant response at the push of a button?

     For example, how many of you have a DVR in your home? In our day, cartoons were on Saturday mornings. You didn’t wake up in time? Tough! You missed it. Miss your cartoon today? No problem!  Just pull up the DVR, and right at your fingertips are the last 17 seasons of “Pokeman” or “Sofia the First” to binge watch. Long line in a restaurant? No problem, whip out the iPhone, iPad, Galaxy tablet, etc. and play the latest version of Angry Birds or Minecraft rather than engage in anything that could possibly be construed as meaningful conversation.

     Wait a sec, what was this article about again? Oh, yeah, outdoors!

Reagan and Kyle Pape

     I started taking my kids fishing and hunting before they were two years old. Expectations were set at “fun,” which included throwing out handfuls of corn, walking through the brush looking for shed horns, going for short boat rides, catching piggy perch at the dock, then building up to more significant trips. This allowed them to go through a discovery process at their own pace. Since then, they have matured and become more capable over the years. I often get compliments about my oldest son (12 years old) being more “hardcore” when it comes to fishing than many adults! Both of my sons have taken turkey, hogs, and deer in the last couple of years, and all four of my kids have been catching fish of some sort since they were toddlers. Spending time learning about the outdoors, in an arena removed from all the technology that normally surrounds them, helps develop a strong bonding experience, allows for conversations about the world we live in, and most importantly, enables (forces?) patience.

Cameron and Kyle Pape 2

     We have sat on a hunt many times waiting for a deer to come out, and end up seeing nothing. We have spent many fishing trips catching small fish, or very few fish. These realistic experiences make the occurrence of catching a big fish or taking a nice deer even more special. It teaches them that you have to work at whatever it is in order to achieve a goal. It teaches them that things don’t always happen exactly when you want. It teaches them the circle of life, life lessons that everyone needs.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty….”
– Theodore Roosevelt

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