The full impact of Hurricane Harvey on Houston’s capital spending plans is coming into focus as city officials propose their annual five-year projects plan.
It is difficult to track incremental delays and schedule shifts among the 500 airport, utility, streets, drainage, police, fire, health, library, parks and other projects in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, but it is hard to miss the weight being given to the storm.
Even some project numbers (which typically read something like, say, N-321038, the code for concrete panel replacements on damaged streets) now simply say, for instance, D-HARVEY.
The city has budgeted $91 million in Harvey recovery spending in its five-year plan in the portion that is supported by the general fund alone, replacing flooded vehicles, repairing leaking roofs, or returning severely damaged facilities to working order. There is another $130 million budgeted in the portions of the plan that are supported by water bills or airport fees.
“Of course we did have to delay some of the projects in the previously adopted CIP so we could prioritize these,” said Melissa Dubowski, the assistant finance director who compiles the plan each year. “As the FEMA reimbursements come in, you’ll see some of those delayed projects move forward. But the city does have to front that money to get the projects going.”
The police complex at Riesner just west of downtown will cost $28 million, and citywide roof replacements will take more than $15 million. Replacing Fire Station 104 will cost $11 million, as will repairing the main municipal courts building. City Hall and its adjacent annex will need $9 million.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will require, depending on the circumstances, a local match of between 10 and 25 percent on these repairs.
The city also has budgeted another $605 million in spending next year on activities for which some FEMA reimbursements may come back, but it is unclear how directly each of the two dozen efforts listed are tied to Harvey.
It is unclear exactly which projects fell victim to the need to free up dollars for Harvey repairs, though about 65 projects listed on last year’s plan disappeared from the draft proposal released to council members last week.
Those include an expansion of Fire Station 26 in southeast Houston, repairs at a dozen libraries and more than a dozen street and drainage projects, from Airline Drive to T.C. Jester to West Fuqua.
Two of the apparently cut projects — replacing the gym floor at Sagemont Community Center and repairing the Riesner police facility — will happen anyway, since both flooded during Harvey.
Another 65 projects were dropped from the plan, but simply may have been completed during the current fiscal year, since those projects had no budgeted spending beyond this summer.
It is hard to know for sure, however, because Houston never has consistently tracked actual capital spending so citizens can compare what City Hall did (rather than what it said it planned to do). Finance officials devoted part of their presentation of the capital plan to a council committee Monday on a change that will allow them to reliably track capital spending for the first time beginning next month.
About 55 projects were added to the plan for the first time in the new proposal, which runs from the 2019 through 2023 fiscal years. A few of those had been listed in prior years and returned after a year or two in limbo.
Among the new listings are road projects on McCarty, Lorraine and Chimney Rock, repairs to the Fifth Ward Multi-Service Center, and a new library for the Westbury area, which would remove the need for long-delayed repairs to the Meyer library in that area.