PA crew near end of 2019 road list
By Ken Stickney
A city of Port Arthur road crew is progressing so quickly through its 2019 projects it may complete this fiscal year’s list within two or three weeks, weather permitting.
City Services Director Hani Tohme said the 17 road rehabilitation projects assigned to a fledgling work group this year were supposed to be finished by the end of September, which marks the end of Fiscal Year 2019.
“Streets completed are Cedar, Pine, 38th, Ninth Street and Eighth Street,” he said this week, reading through a folder. “We have three projects left: El Paso Avenue, Waco and 24th Street. We will move on to those next.”
Other streets on the target list, which was approved by the City Council late in 2018, are prepared and ready for pavement. But Tohme said if weather turns pleasant, the street crew may soon have its eyes on projects that were previously planned for FY 2020, rather than on this year’s list.
“With all the rain we’ve been having, I’m surprised at what they’ve accomplished,” said District 4 Councilman Harold Doucet, who keeps a close watch on infrastructure projects. “We have been getting more done when it is raining than we had gotten done in the last four or five years.”
In planning road projects for FY 2019, the city had some $14 million. Some road projects went to bid for private construction companies. But the city crew, hired and trained to do other, simpler projects, have handled them at a savings to the city.
The city crew “has met and exceeded expectations at this point,” Tohme said. “They’ve been productive and done quality work where it was expected. I’m very pleased with what the crew is doing, very proud.”
He said of seven members on the road crew, six people had never run equipment before. They are running it now. Tohme said the city hired a superintendent with 30 years of road experience to train the crew and got results almost immediately.
Doucet said before Tohme took over the department — he also oversees the water department — councilmembers heard a litany of reasons why no roadwork was being done in Port Arthur, which has been plagued with damaged streets. First, he said, the city had no equipment. Then the city needed to hire workers. Then they were told the workers needed training before they could be productive. Doucet said interim City Manager Harvey Robinson put Tohme in charge midway through the fiscal year.
“Finally, we had someone in charge who said ‘We’ve got this project completed’ or ‘We’ve got that project completed.’ He’s about accountability and doing the work,” Doucet said.
Doucet said the city crew may make a mistake or two but they are learning their trade, which will pay off in the long run.
Tohme said the projects on which the city crews are working will extend the life of those city streets by another 10-15 years. Projects are also coming in under budget by 10-25 percent. He said he believes the council will want the crew to keep pressing for completing projects.
“They don’t want the program to slow down or stop,” he said. “We will continue to improve from now until end of the fiscal year.”