While driving around Houston, Jack Stopnicki couldn’t help notice a reoccurring mystery about the city’s major streets: Why are so many thoroughfares missing lane stripes, and what’s the plan to fix them?

“It just gets worse and worse,” he said. “And some roads that have no striping, you could not tell where to go.” 

Concerned about the danger this poses to everyone on the road, Stopnicki contacted the Houston Landing and asked if we could solve the mystery of Houston’s disappearing lane striping. Here’s what we learned:

How the city of Houston maintains lane stripes 

Throughout the Greater Houston area, cities, counties and the state maintain roadways, road markings, crosswalks, road signs and much more. 

Houston Public Works maintains 16,000 lane miles of streets and more than 15 million linear feet of pavement markings, said spokesperson Erin Jones. The department’s transportation and drainage operations has about 900 employees that respond to all types of infrastructure in the city, including lane striping. The department also uses contractors to paint lane stripes.

  • Photo of the road with worn out road stripes making it hard to see the road stripes
  • Photo of the road with worn out road stripes making it hard to see the road stripes
  • Photo of the road with worn out road stripes making it hard to see the road stripes
  • Photo of the road with worn out road stripes making it hard to see the road stripes
  • Photo of the road with worn out road stripes making it hard to see the road stripes

Road markings tend to fade away over time due to friction from roadway traffic and the sun beaming down on the street. The city’s repairs are done in-house for smaller sections like crosswalks and railroad crossings or through contractors on major thoroughfares, depending on the situation. 

If lane striping is 75 percent visible, the markings on that road would not be restriped, Jones said. 

311 reporting

The city’s 311 system, which is used by the public to report problems to City Hall, is one key way that Houston Public Works learns about faded road stripes. 

Between May 1 to May 17, the city received 12 reports of faded markings through the 311 requests form, according to a review by the Houston Landing of publicly available 311 data. Residents who made those reports were worried about the dangers posed by the missing stripes.

“There used to be a crosswalk crossing W Dallas at this intersection,” stated a recent 311 complaint about the intersection of West Dallas and Gross streets. “Today the crosswalk is completely missing. This is an important crossing for pedestrians.”

Another 311 report stated: “Lane markings on westbound lanes of (North) MacGregor after the Almeda Rd intersection are completely faded. It’s very unsafe and the road has several curves there and people usually drive fast.”

The city started a new contract with Professional Traffic Control, a roadway construction company, to refresh lane markings in March after nine months without a contract, which had caused some delays with major thoroughfares, Jones said. The contractors have specialty equipment for lane striping, which is expensive and difficult for city crews to maintain, and requires specific training and experience.

“We had a lot of overdue requests for pavement striping, and they’re still trying to cut that backlog down,” said Jones, who blamed the pandemic for some of the delays. “They’re hoping to get the backlog completed and back to normal and clear all the overdue requests by December.”

How Harris County manages lane striping 

In coordination with each precinct, the Harris County Engineering Department selects contractors to stripe roadways, said Ray Dovalina, assistant county engineer.

“Restriping is based on new capital improvement projects, pavement rehabilitation projects or feedback from the community,” Dovalina said in an email statement. “Based on the project development plans for construction, the appropriate striping plans would provide the necessary requirements for striping the transportation corridor.”

The department works closely with each county precinct, which receives community input and performs visual inspections to determine the need for restriping transportation corridors, he said. 

TxDOT’s role

While the city maintains roadway markings within city limits, the Texas Department of Transportation oversees highways and state roads inside and outside the city.

TxDOT workers routinely check and inspect roadways daily across Houston, said Danny Perez, public information officer for TxDOT.  

One way TxDOT addresses faded lanes is by hiring a maintenance contractor. If it is a smaller section, it can be done in-house and fresh touch ups can occur.

If there’s a bigger problem, TxDOT can begin a new contract to specifically address targeted areas. Additionally, if TxDOT performs a mill and overlay – picking up the top surface of the roadway to place new asphalt – they will incorporate striping into those projects as well.  

If an area will soon undergo construction such as widening a new roadway, contractors would include striping during the project, Perez said.

However, not all reports of faded markings would necessitate restriping, he said. 

“We don’t have an infinite amount of money to address roadway maintenance so we try to be mindful and pick the top areas that need treatment,” Perez said. 

How to submit a service request in your area

Each governmental entity relies on the public to learn about faded markings. 

Here are ways to reach the city, county and the state: 

TxDOT heavily relies on the public to learn about issues it needs to address, Perez said. People can submit reports online here.  

When a resident makes a report, it might be the first time the department becomes aware of an issue on the road, whether it be faded markings or an item on the highway. 

Perez recommends residents provide their contact information on the online forms in case a worker needs to follow up and ask questions or clarifications. 

Additionally, people can submit a non-emergency service request to Harris County’s 311 customer service portal if it is a county issue. 

To submit a service request to a specific precinct go here: Precinct 1, Precinct 2, precinct 3 and Precinct 4. Individuals would need to create an account to submit a request through the form for precinct 4. 

For issues within Houston city limits, people can submit a 311 request here.

“If people see something that’s faded and probably needs to be repainted, they need to report it,” Jones said. “We’re asking them to please report it to 311 because that’s how we know.”

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Angelica Perez is a civic engagement reporter for the Houston Landing. A Houston native, she is excited to return to the city after interning at The Dallas Morning News as a breaking news intern in the...