When Rion and Sherri Enroth moved their popular home store, Alabama Furniture, from the Houston Heights to 4900 N. Shepherd Drive two years ago, the new location was burglarized under the cloak of darkness its very first night.
The fact that the streetlights were dark on the east side of Shepherd, a six-lane highway, certainly didn’t help. Today, just south of Pinemont Drive and traveling north for more than a mile, the righthand side of N. Shepherd Drive remains pitch black after sunset, presenting numerous dangers.
“About 40,000 cars use Shepherd each day. It’s bad enough that they drive 60 miles-an-hour in a 35 mile-an-hour zone, but there are people walking, and waiting at the bus stops that can’t be seen in the dark,” stated Rion Enroth. “There are loose wires and cables dangling from poles. It’s a real mess. I started calling 311 (the city of Houston’s reporting line) when we moved in, but never heard back.”
Kathryn van der Pol is
President of the North Shepherd Community Alliance and owns Adolf Hoepfl & Son Garage located at 4610 N. Shepherd. While the streetlights work in front of her shop, the darkness starts nearby.
“Our auto shop has never been robbed, but I know some of our neighbors have been,” van der Pol explained. “And in the winter, when it gets dark early, some of the St. Pius X High School students wait in the dark for Metro busses. There are also seniors, and other vulnerable people who depend on the transportation. One day, someone is going to get hurt.”
The two concerned citizens were confused, as the lights work perfectly on the west side all the way to I-45. Finally, through sheer perseverance (which Enroth calls, “dumb luck,”) he was able to wave down a city employee. The worker helped Enroth identify the correct division to call for help.
Houston City Councilwoman Karla Cisneros of District H said that, despite the reports to the city’s 311 line, a call from The Leader was the first she had heard of the problem.
“It turns out that the west side streetlights are maintained by CenterPoint Energy, but the east side lights are the responsibility of the city,” explained Veronica Hernandez, Director of Constituent Services for the office of Council Member Cisneros. “Some of the cable is bad. The Department of Public Works is aware of the problem and has promised to move the repairs up on its list of priorities. We will continue to see that it happens.”
The Leader contacted the Department of Public Works directly to get more information. “The city of Houston is responsible for all the lights on all the major highways in the city. That’s a lot of lights, and we used to have 30 employees to do it. Now we have nine,” stated Tom McCulloch, Electrical Supervisor for the city’s Department of Public Works and Engineering.
“The east side streetlights on State Highway 261, or Shepherd as it is called, are in our charge. They are served by very old cable that has burned out in many spots. Some of the cable runs underground, under the sidewalks or the street. It may require tearing up a lot of concreate to fix it, but we are going to get it done. We would like to finish at least a portion of it by the winter,” McCulloch concluded.
That’s good news, but how is it that all those 311 calls were never shared with the councilwoman’s office? Cisneros keeps a database of every problem reported or referred to her, as well as the contact’s information, and the progress of the issue’s resolution. Does 311 do the same?
“When citizens call 311, they can call anonymously, or leave a name and contact number,” explained Hernandez. “Then the dispatcher determines which department to refer the matter, and that department sends a representative out. However, dispatch requires a specific address or intersection to pass it on. Because this problem runs such a long distance, it may not have been entered into the system correctly – or at all. It certainly was never referred to us.
“The good part is, we know about it now, and you can bet we will stay on it until the situation is resolved,” Hernandez concluded.