Recession Means Lower Bids For Local Highway Work

The economic downturn has brought mostly bad news, but there's at least one good thing that's come out of it locally. In some cases, road repair and maintenance projects are costing a little more than half of what they used to. That means federal stimulus money earmarked for Houston projects will go a lot further.

"We had planned to have $50 million worth of maintenance projects go to contract, and we did, but those maintenance projects came in at about $30 million, which leaves us a nice $20 million surplus."

Pat Waskowiak is the Houston-Galveston Area Council's program director for Public Outreach and Policy. She says lower costs for materials like concrete and asphalt mean contractors are turning in lower bids. It also means several dozen more maintenance projects that had been on a contingency list can now actually take place.

"Especially in urban areas when you have so many mobility needs and you're dealing with congestion, maintenance is a lesser priority in some cases. It's not that the state doesn't maintain roadways, they do, but this gives them the ability to do even more than what they normally do and our roadways in many cases really need that attention."  

The $50 million dollars for maintenance projects is the Houston-Galveston area's share of a larger pool of stimulus funds allocated to Texas. The extra money will be used to resurface roads, replace pavement and fill potholes.

"The whole stimulus package, it's been a once in a lifetime opportunity for the transportation system. We don't generally have extra money so to speak, so this money has been very valuable in funding the backlog of projects.  We've had a lot of them that have been sitting on the shelf so to speak for a number of years because there just wasn't funding to do them." 

Harris County has also noticed the lower bids. County Judge Ed Emmett says bids for a number of road and building projects are much lower than expected.

"We let upwards of $300 million, $400 million worth of contracts, for example, to complete Beltway 8 and we came in close to $130 million under what the estimated cost was. So that means we can now have $130 million to spend on other projects that are needed. So that is the good news out of the stimulus money right now."

Next month, the Texas Transportation Commission will sort through proposals on what to do with the extra money and officially obligate the cash for projects.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...