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.

IMG_3989
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: Addressing the Status Quo

Corpus Christi, Front Page

SPMPsignage

     “Problems are hard to see when buried in a culture of this is how we’ve always done it,”  says Andy Taubman, CC Ad Hoc Residential Street Committee chairman.  He could not stress enough how the City staff are good, decent, competent people who have been more than willing to assist the street committee.  “I believe they are trying to do the right thing.  I’ve had interactions with plenty of government people over the years, and it’s very rare when I can make a blanket statement saying that I really think most of the people are doing it for the right reasons and doing a decent job.”

     Taubman went on to say, however, that the current culture doesn’t foster accountability, importance of shared communications, or respect for innovation.  The system absolutely fosters “We’re going to do tomorrow what we did yesterday, and we’re absolutely not going to look at what we did yesterday because we may not like what we find.”

     Taubman says that this is just typical of human beings in general, so he can’t blame individual people.  “There’s a cultural problem that we have to decide as a community if we’re okay with that or not.”

     When asked if the SPMP (Street Preventative Maintenance Program) is well-run or efficient, he took a deep breath and said he thought the SPMP is an extraordinarily good idea because it requires that we take care of the streets that are in acceptable condition since the cost of reconstructing a street is enormous.  However, the program is short on funds by $5 to $10 million dollars per year, and if the City wants to take care of what it has, then they need to find that amount to do it.   “Should we scrounge to do that?  It wouldn’t be a bad place to spend money,” Taubman said.

     The residential street committee is staying out of the funding discussion at this stage of their work because “it has a way of sucking the oxygen out of the room,” he said.  Taubman points out that there really is only one source of funding.  The dollars used for any city service, whether in the form of a property tax, a fee, or an excise tax, come only from “the pockets of the citizens.”   He went on to say that it appears that other avenues of funding have not been explored because it just is not the way the status quo thinks about the problem of funding.

     “At the margin, there are some sources out there that ought to have a bigger role in the paying for things.  The RTA (Regional Transportation Authority) has a role to play here.”   (RTA current contributions to streets)

       Kirsten Crow of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported in April of 2015: “The agency draws funds through a 1/2-cent sales tax, which generally supports its day-to-day operations. The RTA’s sales tax allocation dropped about 8.2 percent from 2008 to 2009, but overall increased from 2004-13, from $17.7 million to $32.9 million annually, according to the comptroller.”

Andy Taubman 1     In Taubman’s  report,  “Street Methods and Standards:  Residential Streets”  (Read full document here), presented at the January 4, 2016, Corpus Christi Ad Hoc Residential Street Committee meeting, other findings were revealed:

  • Conditions leading to poor streets
  • Street standards implemented in 2013
  • Additional changes to standards and practices that might be required
  • Focus of current street programs
  • Citizen satisfaction priorities for streets
  • RQI (Ride Quality Index) vs. PCI (Pavement Condition Index)
  • Street safety
  • What a million dollars gets the City in residential streets
  • Residential road management objectives
  • Maximizing road fixed per dollar spent
  • Pot hole / small area restoration focus as strategic part of the comprehensive street plan
  • Additional important street considerations for a new residential street program
  • What City staff and committee need to do next
  • Standard costs for reconstruction, overlays, seal coats, and small area restoration

     There has been no move by the City staff to ask, “Can we ramp up since we’re not going to meet our deadlines?”  Even though the program is months behind schedule, “that question never gets asked,” said Taubman.  “A good private business asks this question all the time and would say ‘I’m hiring this contractor, this contractor, and this contractor, and we’re going to surge here and get it done because my year-one program has to be done by the end of year one.’  That doesn’t happen.”

     “If you don’t ask the question, you can’t address the problem.  Because of the way the system was constructed, when you get to that point, you couldn’t address it even if you wanted to address it because you have one IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity) provider for that particular service.  It wasn’t like there was even the possibility of doing that.  In a new program, these are all shakedown issues.  It didn’t get addressed year two.  Now, we’re in year three.  It hasn’t been sorted out yet.”

           The committee meets through May.  Then, they will make recommendations to the City Council based on their findings.  “Even if we come up with good ideas, is there the possibility of implementation?  I don’t know.  It sure seem like it’s hard.  I don’t know where the impetus is going to come from inside the system to say ‘Wow! Now that my eyes are opened, we’re going to do it differently.’  I just don’t know where that’s going to come from.”

(This is the third in a series of articles about the work of the residential street committee.)

 

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Takin’ It to the Streets: A Man with Questions

Corpus Christi, Front Page

Andy Taubman 4

     Voltaire said we should “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”  Asking the right questions is what Andy Taubman, Ad Hoc Residential Street Infrastructure Advisory Committee chairman, sees as the main role of the group of nine citizens charged with addressing the problem of failed residential streets in Corpus Christi.   Taubman made it clear an hour and 50 minutes into the October 20 City Council Meeting that the questions he and the other committee members  have about engineering, accountability, contracting methods, and information sharing are designed to assist City staff in evaluating the existing program to identify successes and areas in need of improvement, not assign blame.

     At this meeting, Taubman’s Infrastructure Committee Plan came under fire from Mayor Martinez and Council members McIntyre, Scott, and Riojas, who were opposed to the plan and ultimately voted against it.

     Council member Lucy Rubio spoke in favor of the plan:  “What are we afraid of?  We have a group of people who want to help us get this right.” Rubio voted for the plan, as did Council members Vaughn, Garza, Magill, and Rosas.

     At the October 27 City Council Meeting, Taubman was nominated by Councilman Magill who said: “He’s got the mind and the will to actually produce something that is tangible and actionable.”

    In a November 1, 2015, Caller-Times editorial, Taubman proved Magill’s assessment when he wrote:  “Understanding the current situation is a necessary precursor for improving it.”  By posing the right questions, Taubman believes the committee can facilitate change in the existing system, and perhaps even in the existing culture.  “We started the process by looking at an existing program because you get two benefits by doing that. We get to ask: What happened in the existing program? Do we think it is efficient? Well-run? Did the money get spent right? Are we happy with it going forward in its same incarnation?”

     These questions prompted the committee to invite contractors, consultants, and outside engineers who help the City with street work to the meeting on December 1, 2015.  “We think that any problems and any solutions that exist are probably going to come from the people who are doing that work every day.  That’s why we are seeking out feedback – because the goal is not necessarily to be judged on making mistakes.  However, we will be judged on repeating or not repeating the mistakes.  We are looking at the Street Preventative Maintenance Program (SPMP) as a model for what will ultimately become the Street Reconstruction Program.”

    IMG_3978

     At the December 16 Ad Hoc Residential Street Committee meeting, Taubman shared “A Private Business Person’s Perspective on a Governmental Process,” a 19-page report co-authored by fellow committee member, Chris Duff.   The committee concluded that the SPMP can be labeled a success because “money got spent” and “roads got fixed.”    Below is a list of some of the information included in the report:

  • An overview of the SPMP Program including current funding sources;
  • A program underfunded by $5 to $10 million per year in comparison to the natural aging of the streets;
  • The high price tag attached to ADA requirements;
  • The cost of seal-coats and overlays;
  • Possible funding sources, including RTA funds;
  • Observation that seal coat is one year behind while overlay were 23% complete at fiscal year end;
  • A method for bidding and awarding contracts that may not lead to the best value and is not small-contractor friendly;
  • A terminology used by City staff to relate information to the citizens that is confusing and rarely allows for real transparency;
  • A lack of feedback to evaluate efficiency in the City system;
  • A need for the use of technology to determine the condition of a street;
  • Staff responses to the committee’s observations and recommendations.

 

Did the committee learn anything beyond that?  In an interview from December 31, 2015, Taubman offered his thoughts on how current street maintenance practices affect the whole program:

      “The seal coat program is one year behind schedule. In two years they’re one year behind. That’s not a little miss; that’s a big miss. The reason the seal coat exists is to preserve the streets. Being behind isn’t just an inconvenience, it has a real cost. Cities don’t do a very good job of measuring opportunity costs. Everyone complains about the $100 being spent in a place somebody doesn’t like. If by not getting the seal coat work done you’ve lost a million dollars in value of the streets, nobody says anything because you can’t measure opportunity costs. If projects are managed well, there are three variables that really get managed: time, quality, and cost. Those are the three variables that get managed in a private situation. The goal is to balance the three. In a city setting time goes out the window. This discussion doesn’t happen because the three types of years (program year, fiscal year, calendar year) don’t match up. So, no one asks the question. Nobody really knows.”

     When asked if City staff has the ability to adjust that, Taubman responded:  “Excellent question. No one asks if the city can ramp things up to meet a deadline. The money is already allocated through our fees, so it isn’t a question of funding. The way they contract for these services is that they wind up in an IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery / Indefinite Quantity) with only one provider for each service. In private business, the owner will hire extra contractors and get the work done. If the question is never asked of City staff, then it can’t be addressed. And, since there’s only one provider, the question can’t be asked at all.”

     Taubman believes another question must be asked: “How and why does the money get spent?”

     “If people are concerned about how the money gets spent and why the money gets spent, then it’s important to have a street committee. I’m not convinced people care how or why the money gets spent. I think that businesses that are very well run ask this all the time,” said Taubman. “I’m not saying anything bad about City staff, but they don’t care if the question gets asked or not.  The City council members feel they need to ask the question out of a sense of duty or obligation, but do they really care if the question gets asked or not? Some do.  Some don’t.  Do the voters really care whether the question gets asked or not? I don’t get an overwhelming sense that that’s an important part of what people think about.  The paper definitely doesn’t care about the question. When you think about the role of media in society where they’re supposed to be asking the question, that’s where I say the biggest deficit in dereliction of duty happens.   Do I really think anybody cares? No. So why are we doing this? I don’t really know.”

     When asked why he is driven to lead the committee and continue to ask the question, Taubman said, “Part of why I’m doing this is because that’s not the way governments operate, but it is the way people operate.  In my experience personally and professionally, I think it’s an important thing to do.  Should we as citizens come together and ask that of government? I would otherwise in a vacuum say yes. I just don’t see any evidence that’s the way the world really works, so I don’t know.  People in their own lives and businesses do it, so come hell or high water we’re going to do this on behalf of the citizens in the context of good government.”

     Like the little boy in Han Chrisian Andersen’s “The Emperer’s New Clothes,” Taubman’s questions are opening doors, eyes, and minds to the possible need for change in the status quo.  “Is there a need or willingness for change within the current system?” Taubman asks.  Time will tell.  For now, the committee members continue to take the road less traveled by the average citizen in their quest to “get it right.”

 

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

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Flour Bluff Town Hall Meeting Has Big Turnout

Flour Bluff, Front Page
Hogan and Skrobarczyk
Dan Hogan and James Skrobarczyk

Flour Bluff residents, Dan Hogan and James Skrobarczyk, organized the Flour Bluff Town Hall Meeting held on January 12, 2016, at the Texas A&M Corpus Christi Innovation Center located at the corner of First National Drive and South Padre Island Drive.  A group of about 125 people showed up to hear from several community leaders.

Justice of the Peace Thelma Rodriguez started the meeting by fielding questions about the duties of her office and how she works with school officials to do what is best for the students.

State Representative Todd Hunter followed her with a presentation on the local implications of state legislation for windstorm insurance.  Hunter said that James Skrobarczyk accompanied him to Austin and stood with him as they battled the Department of Insurance.  “After 12 years, we got the bill passed.  Finally, Nueces County is going to be treated like human beings,” Hunter said.  He told the audience that insurance companies are already creating policies as they begin to compete for business in the coastal areas.  “They’re high, but they’re coming down.  You are going to see a rate reduction, but there will be a 12- to 14-month transition period.”

Todd Hunter Town Hall Meeting
Rep. Todd Hunter

Hunter also addressed the possibility of cruise lines in Corpus Christi.  He said that the problem is that Brownsville wants it, too.  “We’re going to bring travel tourism here.  We’re going to set up a local group – a resource group from my area – to back us up when we start having these State hearings,” Hunter added.  He encouraged interested parties to contact his office if they want to be part of that group.

Hunter ended his part of the meeting with information on the expansion of Hwy 361 and the safety issues related to the roadway leading from Port Aransas to Flour Bluff.

 

 

Sheriff Jim Kaelin, who has served 9 years as sheriff, said that nothing is as important to this community as a safe, sanitary, secure jail.  “People need to understand that inmates in the jail have been accused of crimes.  Any one of us could wind up there.  Penitentiary inmates have been convicted of crimes.”  Currently, 900 of the 1068 beds are filled.  Kaelin said that increasing capacity has been slow, but the bed count has grown by 50 since he took over.  He is currently working on adding 144 beds by opening two areas in the annex.  The construction plans have been approved and that renovation could get the county through the next 10 or 15 years without added expense to the taxpayers.

Sheriff Jim Kaelin
Sheriff Jim Kaelin

An audience member asked the sheriff to talk about the inmate commissary.  “Our ratio of officers to inmates is 1:48.”  Kaelin said that in order to get chronically non-compliant inmates to follow rules, certain privileges are offered:  use of pay phones, weekend visitation by family members, television in the day room, co-mingling with other inmates, and commissary privileges.  The inmates use their own money to purchase items at the “jail store.”  The 42 cents made from each dollar goes into an inmate benefit fund that pays for shoes, uniforms, mattresses, bedding, and cleaning supplies.  $400-$500 thousand per year goes into the account.  Currently the balance is around $800,000.  “This saves the taxpayer from footing the bill for these items,” Kaelin said.

Kaelin finished with offering advice to the attendees on using cell phones to take pictures of suspicious cars, people, and activities to help monitor what is happening in their neighborhoods.  Skrobarczyk added that the Next Door website is another way to connect with neighbors and look our for each other.

Cdr Todd Green
Cdr. Todd Green

  

Cdr. Todd Green with CCPD, addressed concerns raised by audience members on several topics, including stray dogs, ways to protect their own property, knowing their neighbors, and calling the police.  Green responded to questions and concerns about ongoing problems in the Turtle Cove neighborhood.  He encouraged all to call the police every time something occurred, which one man said they had already been doing.  Another officer suggested that citizens take advantage of the CCPD social media websites and form Neighborhood Watch groups.

Captain David McCarty
Captain David McCarty

Captain David McCarty introduced himself and said that he took over the Bravo District on January 11, 2016, and wanted everyone to be able to put a face with a name.  He said he looked forward to working with and getting to know the residents of Flour Bluff.

Andy Taubman, Chairman for the Ad Hoc Residential Street Committee for Corpus Christi, addressed the group on what the committee is finding as they research the SPMP (Street Preventative Maintenance Program) and the standard practices.  “The phase the City is in right now is truly reactive.  There’s not a lot of planning, record keeping, or accountability in the system.  The committee is trying to get the City to emerge from this reactive behavior to a proactive behavior,” said Taubman.  They are trying to convince the City to repair the streets in a neighborhood rather than addressing pot holes only as they are reported by residents.

Andy Taubman Speaker
Andy Taubman

Other problems include master plans that have not been digitized and have missing elements, such as a missing sewer in the plans for Flour Bluff Drive.  One man spoke of his street that has 47 houses and not a single fire hydrant, which is a problem with the master plan according to Taubman.  To report problems, Taubman suggested that residents use the City website  so that a work order can be made.  Questions were raised about various streets, including Caribbean and Purdue.  James Skrobarczyk, who also serves on the committee, said, “There’s a lot issues where Flour Bluff has just been left behind.”

Greg Smith, longtime resident of Flour Bluff and member of ISAC (Island Strategic Action Committee), said, “Several communities are putting together an Area Development Plan, which falls under the Comprehensive Development Plan.  It would be a good idea if Flour Bluff got a group together and met and NOT be left behind.  That would allow the people of Flour Bluff to come up with their own plan instead of the people from Massachusetts coming up with a plan.”

The final minutes of the meeting included Melanie Hambrick, President of the Flour Bluff Business Association, who spoke about the Homeless Commission and the concerns surrounding the new ordinance to ban panhandling downtown.  She said the concern of many residents and businesses is that enforcement of the new regulation could actually bring more homeless to Flour Bluff.

Melanie Hambrick

A representative from Brent Chesney’s office (Precinct 4 County Commissioner) was open for questions from the audience.  After several comments about people fishing from Mud Bridge on Yorktown in Flour Bluff, she offered to talk to them after the meeting.  She also volunteered to help create the Flour Bluff area development committee through Chesney’s office.

Chesney rep

Since many questions were left unanswered, Dan Hogan suggested later in the meeting that another gathering be held in February just to address concerns of crime with Chief Markle and to cover other city issues with the Council members Magill and McIntyre who were unable to attend.

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