Houston road project frustrates commuters, construction workers and council

Only days after seven blocks of fresh, black asphalt was laid across Milam Avenue in downtown Houston construction crews chipped away at the new black top last week. The project, part of a giant effort to improve the metro area’s streets, has left drivers frustrated, construction workers confused and the city council angry.

The new blacktop, laid May 10, was an attempt to bandage a street in the midst of construction. But it’s created more problems, including driving hazards and a possible violation against a city ordinance. And it cost $35,000.

When the asphalt was laid, the first construction crew was under the impression the utility work was complete in the area. When a different crew arrived at the site a couple days later, workers were baffled to find the fresh pavement in the spot where they were to dig a 10-foot trench for utilities.

The first crew had simply laid the new asphalt on top of the old layer, making the existing manhole covers into sinkhole-like pits. Now cars are swerving across lanes of traffic to avoid the holes.

“If you and I had this job and this was the result, we’d be fired,” Carmen Pokluda, an onlooker, told the Houston Chronicle.

To add to the project’s problems, the city council passed an ordinance in 2000 that prohibits cutting into freshly laid pavement for five years. But the entire seven-block surface is to be stripped this summer, when a permanent concrete surface will be built.

According to Metro spokesman Ken Connaughton, the ordinance does not apply to temporary surfaces. As a temporary measure, the asphalt overlay does not fall under the ordinance requiring that new streets be left alone for five years, he said

According to the transit authority, the temporary pavement added $35,000 to the project’s $11.2 million price tag. After the Milam project is completed in December, construction is scheduled to begin on neighboring Travis and Smith streets.