Wednesday, 25 September 2019 09:02

All signs point toward employee dedication

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Torian Jerome carries newly minted street signs across the Houston Public Works Sign Fabrication Shop located at 2200 Patterson Road. Torian Jerome carries newly minted street signs across the Houston Public Works Sign Fabrication Shop located at 2200 Patterson Road.


Instantly recognizable and iconic in shape — stacks of red octagons, racks of yellow diamonds, blue, white and green rectangles, and arrows of every direction fill the shelves and line the walkways of the Houston Public Works Sign Fabrication Shop at 2200 Patterson Road.

In the early morning hours, reflective primary colors brighten the otherwise gray warehouse interior. The shop comes to life at around 6:30 a.m. when crews arrive to load and deliver their daily docket of signs destined for the streets of Houston.

The fruits of their labor will help residents navigate more than 16,000 lane miles of city streets, maintain order, and keep drivers and pedestrians safe on the roads.

Houston Public Works Traffic Operations maintains more than 1 million street name and traffic safety signs. HPW Maintenance Manager John Brown oversees sign fabrication, sign installation, road markings and special events. It’s a continuous operation that keeps crews busy year-round.

In Fiscal Year 2019, Traffic Operations fabricated 23,000 new signs, maintained 17,000 existing sings, and installed or re-installed 17,300 signs, Brown said.

“I’m so proud of the work these employees do. The sheer volume of what they are able to produce and install is mind-blowing,” he said. “This is what really makes the city roll. These men and women are the backbone of the city’s infrastructure.”

Doug Andreano has worked in the sign shop for 15 years. On the morning of Sept. 18, Andreano was applying a clear coating to stop signs by feeding them through a roller press. Andreano also said he occasionally pitches in with his colleagues in sign installation crews that set up barricades on weekends and special events. 

“I love this job. There’s always something to do and you know that your work is important to the city,” Andreano said. “There is a constant demand for signs. You never get caught up because people are always hitting sign posts with their car, stealing them, shooting them, tagging them with spray paint — it’s an everyday thing.”

Some signs just get old and have to be retired and recycled when they are faded, bent or lose reflectivity. Sign shape and size regulations also change. For example, stop signs used to be 24 inches wide, but regulations changed to 36 inches.

“We make more than 540 different signs according to the Texas Municipal Code. Big overhead street signs and small ones, everything is made on-site,” Brown said.  “Each sign has a barcode sticker on the back — sort of like a born-on date — so we can track those and know whether they might be due for replacement.”

The shop uses both digital and manual production methods. Some signs are printed using design software and large-scale plotter printers, while many of the traffic signs are screen printed with specialized ink spread onto large wooden-frame screens that have been used for decades.

“My job is to keep the signs moving out of the shop,” Andreano said. “The city is so big and it’s growing every day. There are only six of us, so we have a big responsibility.”

Attention to detail is a must. Every street sign spelling must pass muster with multiple pairs of eyes in the shop.

“Our guys in field are the last line of defense against misspelled street name signs,” Brown said. “They spellcheck against the Key Map, and sometimes they even give Key Map corrections.”

The installation crews often spot damaged signs out in the field, but the operation relies on internal records and 311 reports to know when a sign needs to be replaced, Brown said.

“If you see a missing or damaged sign, please call 311, be patient and trust the process,” Brown said. “Better yet, snap a photo and submit it through the 311 app. We have a lot of folks try to jump the line or expect preferential treatment.

We have to follow the chain of command, and your street sign or other service request will be addressed as soon as we can.”



Doug Andreano applies a clear coating to stop signs by running them through a roller press.


Dedric Foster loads new signs into his truck early in the morning of Sept. 18.


Eric McDavis picks up a load of street signs from the Houston Public Works Sign Fabrication shop.  


L. Mitchell trims the reflective coating off the edges of blank sign plates. 


Traffic signs are often made using wood-framed silk screens. 


Backstock of signs are organized and stored in carts. 


 The HPW Sign Fabrication Shop produces 540 different signs. 


Thomas Solorazano arrives at the Sign Fabrication Shop before he heads out for a day of installing steet signs.


Doug Andreano applies a clear coating to stop signs by running them through a roller press.


  Isaias Gomez peels digitally printed lettering from a parking sign. 


Jaden McKinnis designs the street signs digitally. 


Traffic signs are often made using wood-framed silk screens. 


Randel Milton holds up a street sign destined for Cummins Street. 


John Brown wraps up a long day in his office at Houston Public Works Traffic Operations. 


 Chhean Kung cuts out labels which will allow HPW to keep track of signs. 


Rolls of reflective material used to make street and traffic signs visible at night. 

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Creating barriers to tragedy

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Tropical Depression Imelda inundated Houston and Southeast Texas on Sept. 19 with an unexpected severity, but in the days before bad weather struck, Houston Public Works crews were proactively protecting public safety by deploying hundreds of barricades to potential highwater locations.  

Houston Public Works Maintenance Manager John Brown oversees barricade logistics for special events, including weather emergencies. When a threatening weather system approaches, Brown and his team stage barricades at flood-prone intersections. Without those barriers in place, highwater could potentially cause an inestimable loss of life and property. 

“It’s an important part of weather emergency preparation that most people never think about,” Brown said. “It’s a proactive measure to supply police and fire departments the equipment they need to keep people out of those dangerous areas.” 

Read more about the HPW operations that support emergency preparation.


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