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EDITORIAL — Moved-up projects show city progress

Project by project, Port Arthur is taking well-considered, measured steps to turn our city around.

That was in evidence at a special meeting this week, when the City Council, at the professional staff’s behest, considered moving up several Fiscal Year 2020 street projects into the summer months. The specific street projects have not been chosen — councilmembers will pick those projects at the next meeting, on Monday — but the signal is clear that they will.

That was because crews have made sure yet steady progress in addressing their 2019 street remediation projects, completing them or launching them with three months left in the fiscal year. Remediation projects include less complex but necessary street repairs that the city workers can handle. More complex, reconstruction projects are contracted to private companies that specialize in that work.

What that means is that you’ll see crews working the later, daylight hours of summer addressing what many Port Arthur people — and most Port Arthur drivers, for sure — think is the city’s chief challenge: improving our infrastructure, including more than 400 miles of streets.

The work will be funded with some $2.2 million that includes money saved on other infrastructure projects and money yet unspent. Call it “sofa money.” Interim City Manager Becky Underhill said that may only cover a handful of streets, perhaps eight, but it will keep the public works department’s momentum going.

Does it meet this city’s needs? Not even close. Port Arthur streets have been largely ignored for many years; the 2017 flooding worsened a street situation that was already dire. But it signals a needed turnaround.

Here’s how the additional street work will be handled: The city’s full-time professional staff has compiled a list of streets most pressed for repairs. (Let’s accept it’s a long one.) The elected officials will review the list and, with a mind toward improvements in each of the districts, choose which projects make the cut.

That doesn’t mean that one district will necessarily get the edge over another, but that all districts are important. In that the staff makes the initial list, all the streets from which the councilmembers choose should be in sore need of fixing.

Important, too, is this: The list of capital project work proposed for fiscal years 2020-24 presents a long-term plan for spending the city’s revenue in orderly, thoughtful fashion. Councilmember Harold Doucet, who watches over city money closely, said such a long-term plan has been a long time coming.

“I’ve been waiting on this since I’ve served on council,” he said. “We cannot operate without a plan. If we stay with the plan, we can fund things and get things accomplished.”

So we have a plan. We have a little extra change. Come Monday, we’ll have a list.