Conroe, February 18 – Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley’s failure to address road and bridge issues until recently in order to boost his re-election effort has cost County taxpayers several hundred thousand dollars, after the Texas Department of Transportation shut down the Woodforest North Bridge on an emergency basis and ordered the County government to address structural damage TxDOT found during a January 11, 2018, inspection.
During the February 13, 2018, Commissioners Court meeting, Riley left it to County Purchasing Director Gilbert Palomo to break the news that the cost to the taxpayers for the emergency bridge repairs is $411,781.50. Riley tried to blame the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the emergency.
Christine Russell, a resident of Woodforest, came before the Commissioners Court to explain the entire situation and to confront Riley and the County government over the delays.
The following are Russell’s remarks to the Commissioners Court in their entirety:
“Gentlemen, my name is Christine Russell. I’m a resident of Woodforest in Precinct 2 and I’m here to talk about item 17 on the agenda about the Woodforest Parkway North Bridge.
“I have two big problems that I want to bring to the Court’s attention and everybody’s attention. This is very frustrating because this bridge has been damaged since May of 2016. And we have pictures of the damage here. It’s been brought up to the County’s attention.
“The sheriffs came out and shut everything down. And now as of January 11  TxDOT came out and said that it is structurally unsound and y’all had 24 hours to shut the bridge. So it’s been shut since January 12 and we’re now here at February 13 and there’s no contract in place.
“Again, it’s been damaged for over two years, almost two years. The problem is that effects almost half of our neighborhood. And I’ve got a picture here to show that 2 and a half of the precincts in our MUD district are limited to only one entrance and exit to our neighborhood. That happens to be the south entrance to Woodforest Parkway. That’s flooded three times in less than two years. We’re now coming into the rainy season again. We’re now lef,t including the retirement community there in Woodforest, which is Monterra, with one way in and one way out. That’s flooded so dramatically that last time at Harvey the road actually washed away there at the south entrance. It was fixed pretty quickly. It flooded so badly that the asphalt literally lifted and shifted off into the ditch.
“So this is a big point of concern because we’re coming into the rainy season and what happens if that floods? We’ve got half of our neighborhood there that’s got one way in and one way out.
“I’m really disappointed that nothing was done prior to this and it was just an aesthetic issue. It would have cost the county less money and would have been less of an issue. It could’ve been done at a different time. But now it’s a structural issue. It’s been closed at least a month. Who knows how much longer it’s going to be closed? It’s a big impact to the people who live in Woodforest which is a new community with over 6,000 residents.”
Riley admitted many of the problems Russell identified after she spoke, although he tried to blame FEMA. Riley agreed, “This bridge was damaged back in 2016.” Riley claims FEMA wanted the bridge rebuilt to its original design specifications.
Riley also tried to argue with TxDOT’s inspection and conclusion that the bridge is structurally unsound. “When TxDOT came through, it looks a lot worse than it actually is. The problem is the approach and stabilized material under the approach is fluffing away.” Instead, Riley contends that LJA Engineering, the engineering contractor that provides members of the Commissioners Court with an annual fishing and gourmet dining trip in Louisiana each year, “says the bridge is not structurally damaged.”
The Commissioners Court awarded an emergency contract for which taxpayers are on the hook for $411,781.50.
“The problem is the approach and stabilized material under the approach is fluffing away.” – – Charlie Riley.
Perhaps, the problem is that Riley doesn’t understand that material that is “fluffing away” is not “stabilized material.”
Renowned technical expert Bob Smith, the President of GeoScience Engineering, commented,
“From the pictures I have seen from Brian Dawson, the problem looks like erosion and cavatation due to rapid drawn down of water. The loss of supporting soul strength is most probably the reason TEXDOT considered this an eminent danger and advised the closure. Good call on TEXDOT’s recommendation. The extent of the damage could have been mitigated if remedial repairs had been done. Now it’s going to cost a lot more to repair due to ignoring the problem. Head in the sand leadership.”