By Kaci Woodrome
The most important jobs in our society and in our communities are commonly the least glamorous.
“It’s not pretty and it’s monotonous, but it’s got to be done,” says Freddie Jebousek, general superintendent for Precinct 4’s Road & Bridge (R&B) Department.
With more than 2,700 road miles and 327 bridges, Precinct 4’s 147 R&B employees stay busy. Because the coverage area is so large, much of their work is reactive and dependent on residents who call in work orders to Precinct 4’s Community Assistance Department. Fortunately, the workload is spread across three R&B camps throughout the precinct.
The department works to uphold the quality and safety of public roadways by providing concrete and culvert repairs and installation, mowing, road striping, resurfacing and repaving projects, sign repair and replacement, sinkhole and pothole repairs, trash pickup, tree trimming, and more.
Most R&B staff have their daily assignments in hand as the sun comes up – or earlier – collecting their needed equipment and supplies before heading out on the road as other businesses are just opening their doors.
These assignments must be accomplished regardless of weather conditions, whether it’s a stifling 100 degrees outside or 40 degrees and raining.
The department name is slightly misleading, as some residents in Harris County Precinct 4 confuse this maintenance department for one that builds new roads and bridges.
Jebousek explains that “it’s any maintenance whatsoever that has to do with the road or the ditch or any sign that you see.”
There are three main objectives for the R&B Department’s routine work each day: public safety, flood mitigation, and community aesthetics.
“Truly, the biggest thing for us is safety,” Jebousek says. “If the grass is so tall you can’t see, or if there’s something in the ditch that could be struck by a mower and hit a car or house, it could be dangerous.”
When work orders are called in during the day, a supervisor visits the location to determine the action needed. The sign man for each R&B maintenance facility is typically the go-to employee for anything that can be handled alone quickly.
“He’s the one that’s out every day patrolling his assigned area to make sure all road signs are in place,” Jebousek says. “Of course, the key one is the stop sign. That’s the most important one. He also makes sure that the street markers are installed so people know where they’re going, and he replaces old ones or any that are knocked down, because they get knocked down every day. It’s for the safety of all drivers to make sure all the signs are in place.”
For other routine work, like mowing or ditch digging, crews usually remain on assignment until the work in one concentrated area is finished. Crews typically follow a route that can take up to four to six weeks to complete and then they start over.
“Tractors don’t go fast, so they stay in that one area and mow until they’re finished and then move on to the next area,” Jebousek says. “It’s the same with digging a ditch with a Gradall. We have one area that’s staked and ready for grade, so they may be there for three or four days.”
Constituents call in if they notice standing water in a ditch, which is usually due to sediment and build-up from stormwater runoff that can affect the original grade. If the grade of the ditch doesn’t match the county surveys on record, the R&B crews dig it down and clean the culvert too.
“We use what’s basically a big pressure washer that just blasts through the culverts and cleans out all the debris and mud out of it. If you dig the ditch and leave the mud in the culvert, it’s not doing any good – it goes hand in hand,” says Jebousek.
Although it may seem trivial, picking up roadside trash is a crucial public safety service. If there’s a large object hidden beneath debris, a mower could sling it into a passing car or hit a pedestrian.
“It’s a safety issue to send a trash crew ahead of the mowers,” Jebousek shares.
Coincidentally, it’s a job that meets all three of the department’s objectives by ensuring public safety, alleviating potential flooding, and improving community aesthetics.
While most of the department’s goals are met during daylight hours, it may come as surprise to learn that R&B crews are on call 24 hours a day.
“If a tree falls during a storm and blocks the road, we’re the ones that go out there and clean that up. If there’s a wreck at night where somebody knocks over a stop sign or a guard rail, we go out there in the middle of the night and fix the stop sign or put barrels up to block the guard rail. I don’t think people realize that,” Jebousek says.
These calls usually come in from law enforcement officials through the county operator. But emergency response for the R&B Department doesn’t stop there.
“During a storm, a hurricane, or a flood, or something of that nature, we’re the first ones that go out. We clear the roads before any of the cops and firemen can do their jobs. Before we do any debris removal, we first make sure the roads are passable,” Jebousek says.
Acting immediately during an emergency has been second nature for most R&B employees for years – and Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle recognized that even more so during Hurricane Harvey. R&B crews were tasked with high-water rescues using dump trucks and other equipment. Since then, many have completed Swiftwater Rescue Training in preparation for future disasters in which they will again be called upon as first responders.
Day in and day out, Precinct 4 residents can count on dedicated R&B staff to care for the community by helping provide safe, beautiful spaces to live and work.
To submit a work order request for road and bridge maintenance, please contact Harris County Precinct 4’s Community Assistance Department by calling 832-927-4444.