News25 Investigates


IN-DEPTH: Local infrastructure just as important as national issues

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Posted at 6:36 PM, Aug 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-02 11:50:41-04

25 Investigates revealed wide-ranging tabs for damage after the Texas Deep Freeze.

Those with the least damage invested in upkeep, while those that didn't ended up with huge bills and no clear way to make that money up.

The problem of upkeep, especially on our roads, predates the Texas Deep Freeze by a longshot, making the investment by some cities worth the money many times over.

"But how important is this stuff to me? It's actually very important," said Jaimie Gatson of Temple.

Gatson and Russell Johnson, who we talked to at a Temple park, believe in good roads, but also the need for playgrounds and activities to keep children active.

Leaders in Temple use what they like to call the "rule of basics," meaning they take care of basic needs and solutions to other needs tend to follow. It's a formula that has also worked for many other cities.

For years the conditions of the roads in Marlin made the town the butt of jokes statewide.

Nobody had worse roads than Marlin. Roads kept crumbling every day. People kept driving on them. People kept repairing their cars. All kinds of bad things started happening here until the new administration came in and made infrastructure a priority.

Why is that important? Because now you see more repair and maintenance.

The city's new leaders knew they need to get people's attention -- in the most obvious way possible. They focused on Marlin's infrastructure.

"It's critical because that way, if they go into church and get food to go do laundry, school, they have to drive on a road," Marlin City Manager Cedric Davis said. "They have to walk, hopefully on a sidewalk. We have to have infrastructure because we've got to be able to put the pipes in the ground of war. So infrastructure is critical to the quality of life of any community."

Mayor Carolyn Lofton brought in Davis, the former Mayor of Balch Springs, a Dallas suburb, to breathe new life into the dying town.

A known political figure in Texas, as the first-ever man of color to run for governor, Davis had turned his hometown around by getting consensus from a diverse population about a common problem: Balch Springs roads.


"How many got their automobiles repaired I asked them how many times that they get flat tires," Davis said. "Ask them what their children talk about when they're on that bus and with those potholes. That's how you get community buy in."

The new Marlin team got to work on roads. They even got help from a former mayor who donated a small steam roller to smooth out the process.

Knowing roads presented a longterm project, the team also found another, more achievable goal. They put what they call "sweat equity" into reclaiming the old city park -- long, overgrown and unusable. They gave it new life.

Parks and quality of life have taken center stage around Mexia.

Mexia takes public works, and infrastructure seriously, tackling road issues, blight, and other issues. They focus on so-called resiliency, building underground water storage to help weather the next Texas deep freeze.

"We want to make sure we're listening to the citizens concerns about existing problems," City Manager Eric Garritty said.

That means traditional infrastructure like water and sewer but also the city's only public park.

"We feel like the investment in the park is going to help us as we position ourselves to grow," Garritty said. "People will come and see. So here, here's this community of less than 10,000 people who's got this fantastic facility."

But the road to improvement can get bumpy if leaders don't take care of the basics.

A shocking accident in McLennan County a couple of years ago illustrates the importance of infrastructure.

A man driving at the intersection of highways 6 and 77, drove off an overpass and landed on the road below. How? The impact sheared the bolts off the guardrail -- a guardrail designed a long time ago to prevent this very accident. You could see the sheared bolts and the twisted metal. We were told at the time the driver survived, though few of us could figure out how.

It's why cities like Temple invest so much in their roads.

Temple's mayor says the city can afford better parks because it keeps up on more basic items like roads, water and sewer.

"If there's something that's important to you, you're going to keep up with it and you're going to maintain it," Mayor Tim Davis said. "It's expensive to rebuild. It's not nearly as expensive to maintain."

Want proof? Look back to the Texas Deep Freeze.

In the wake of the Texas deep freeze, Temple had probably the lowest repair bill of anybody around.

Why? Because they spent money on maintenance.

While some cities suffered tens of millions of dollars in damage, Temple got off easy.

"The city of Temple ended up having a little just a little bit less than $1.2 million worth of damage that was attributable to the storm," Davis said.

Temple road crews give each street a grade each year. Those which fall below standard get an upgrade.

Just like a good homeowner, leaders here take upkeep very seriously.

"The council, the city of Temple - we all understand the importance of infrastructure," Davis said. "We all understand that it's our job to be sure that the basics for the citizens of temple that they pay for that those things are supplied in supplied well and always in good order."

That's something taxpayers like Jaimie Gatson appreciate, especially on a hot day like the one we met, sending the family to the splash pad.

"You've got to have good water system, so we can comfortably come play in the splash pad. Sewer's got to be on point," she said.

And roads, she said, should look like they do in Temple.

That's better than the crumbling stretch of highway that gave way and allowed a driver to literally drive off an overpass into thin air.

In Temple, say people here, you likely won't find any deadly accidents blamed on the condition of the roads. Wise-spending of their tax money, they add, practically insures it.