Inside Houston’s Half-Million-Dollar Pothole Buggy

Mike Morris hitches a ride on the city’s $500,000 Street Surface Assessment Vehicle, a modified van that’s been hard at work studying street bumps and cracks since last May. Operators hope to complete a pass on more than 16,000 miles of Houston streets by this coming June.

Inside the van, [Patrick] Johnson uses a modified PlayStation controller and a black box with 16 white buttons to run the system, from recording the type of pavement being scanned — cement or asphalt — to marking potholes.

The van’s front lasers, mounted where the bumper used to be, evaluate the pavement surface for rough patches. A second laser device, the “crackscope,” is mounted at the back of the van, recording a continuous bird’s-eye photograph of the street to reveal fissures in the pavement.

A round, 11-lens camera — looking not unlike a disco ball — sits atop the van, recording nearby street features, including culverts and fire hydrants.

Each street starts with a score of 100, but as the lasers find rough patches or cracks and Johnson records each pothole, the score drops.


Photos: Public Works Dept.

19 Comment

  • Seems like yet another high-dollar pet project of a Council Member’s brother-in-law, just like those trucks that barf hot asphalt patches that last a few days. At half a million dollars, I’m sure furloughed employees will love seeing it drive by.

  • I am sure council would give you the same BS as with the million dollar upgrade of garbage truck GPS systems: “we are spending $500,000, but will save millions because of blah blah blah.”

  • What they NEED to do is revive the red light sync program.

    That good intention has turned into a literal road from hell.

    And considering our current mayor has blind-woman tunnel vision, it’s going to be a long few years before anything good in this city happens.

  • Half a million for the van, but where is the city going to find cash to repair all our crappy streets? Anytime a pothole actually does get filled, the material used disintegrates in a few weeks and the pothole is back again.

    Somebody needs to investigate the department responsible for Houston’s street repairs.

  • I still marvel at how scarce potholes are in River Oaks and Uptown/Galleria, and how common they are elsewhere. Funny how that works, huh?

  • I hope the damn thing gets all out of alignment driving on North Shepherd between Dickson and I-10.

  • The masses should be satisfied with any manner of paving. That is all.

  • I have those same thoughts, Superdave, when I drive through the east side to my property at 18 Linwood and wonder how so much blight and decay could be possible just a few miles due east of the shiny happy intersections like Westheimer and Kirby.

    The roads, sidewalks (where there are any), bike lanes, and general infrastructure east of downtown is almost third world. Driving around Canal and Harrisburg reminds me a lot of driving around La Paz, Mexico. Yet, rollerblade through River Oaks one sunny day and the only bumps you’ll hit are speed bumps. It’s smooth as glass pretty much everywhere north of Westheimer, east of Weslayan, south of Memorial drive, and west of Shepherd.

  • ‘It’s smooth as glass pretty much everywhere north of Westheimer, east of Weslayan, south of Memorial drive, and west of Shepherd.

    Jared, no shit. I live on Colquitt two blocks east of Shepherd and it looks like a 4th world country. I’ve seen much better streets in Mexico.

    Although, Sue Lovell’s street looks pretty good.

  • We like to call it ‘the slums of River Oaks.’

  • SL,
    OK, you got my attention. Which council member?

  • Saw it at 11:45 a.m. parked on the 5300 block of Feagan in the Heights across from a friend’s house. Needless to say, that stretch of Feagan is pretty new and smooth–maybe taking a break as it prepared for Shepherd?

  • It passed by me as I walked on Greeley in Montrose the other day. I wonder if the holes in my jeans lowered the street score.

  • Report bad streets via email to:

  • Well lets look at it in terms of the numbers. Amortize the cost over the life of the vehicle, say 5 years. That’s $50k per year plus maintenance and storage, say $60k per year. Now compare that to the cost of an additional employee who could go out and inspect those surfaces manually. Add in their overhead, benefits etc etc. I would say the van doesn’t cost much more than 1 employee. Doesn’t seem like such a bad deal to me given that it can cover far more miles of street per year than someone on foot could.

  • This sounds like a job for SUPERMAN!

  • One of the primary reasons I hate living in Houston are because of ridiculous road conditions. I drive a Mercedes and have had to replace 4, yes 4 wheels that have been cracked from these damn potholes. Who is responsible for allowing the roads to get so unbelievably horrific? They deserve a punch in the face.
    And apparently these people commenting on River Oaks aren’t referring to Westheimer. That whole stretch past Kirby all the way until 610 is a nightmare.
    Don’t get me started about Post Oak…WTF. From Westheimer to Richmond is disgusting, especially the far right lane heading south on Post Oak. Good Lord.
    I hate this city. No downtown atmosphere, redneck AND heinous infrastructure mess that I’m paying for in wheels. Swerving to avoid potholes will cause accidents- doesn’t anyone care?
    Dirty and dangerous city.

  • Well Nichole now that you have new tires put ’em to use and hit the road!

    I drive the same roads and they are not as horrific as you describe. Perhaps if you got off your cell phone and paid attention to the road you wouldn’t keep hitting the same holes.

    Speaking of holes……

  • My car was destroyed, can someone help m