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Behind-the-Scenes, Recycling, Roads, Traffic, Trash

City University – {Emergencies, Traffic, Streets, Public Works, Recycling}

Peering up at stoplights with a new appreciation, I drove home after dark from the City University meeting in December. Noticing the round, little traffic bumps on the street in a new way too, after visiting the City of Abilene Traffic shop at this month’s meeting. The Traffic Shop is where they maintain and replace all signs, and are responsible for traffic signals and road markers.

We also visited the recycle facility at 2209 Oak Street. What I learned about egg cartons and glass may surprise you.

A little-known fact and apparently a rarity for cities, is that Abilene has a glass crusher. This means in a big pile of glittering, pea gravel-like stones which are suitable for various gardening or other uses. It’s free for the taking. Plumbers sometimes use it in place of pea gravel.

A special craft hut on site contains donated items, for use by area teachers for classroom projects. This is where those egg cartons come in. The hut also contains shelves of oatmeal boxes and other supplies. Who knew?

Mulch comes in small bags for purchase ($1/bag – limit 15), or there’s loose mulch for free. You haul that away yourself, in your own containers.

There’s the Hazardous Household Waste Unit, where you can take batteries, cooking oil, oil filters for disposal.

The Reissue Store has partially used cans of paint, etc.

Call 676-6053 and they’ll pick up appliances for free.

Goodwill has a contract with Dell for TV’s, computers and related products – they accept these and will dispose of them properly or re-use them.

Up to 8 free tires are accepted during the Spring and Fall Clean-ups.


We heard about the Emergency Operations Center – which is in a room in the basement of the City Hall building, where there are lots of outlets in a relatively small room and plastic bins of items ready for use by different departments in the event of emergencies. It was pointed out that the EOC doesn’t make policy, but provides a place for people to work. Our “top three threats” in Abilene are HAZMAT, Floods or Fire. In the event of any of these things causing severe damage, this would be where solutions would be implemented. There is an Area Command Structure set up, so that other surrounding communities can work together.

When Hurricane Rita brought a lot of people in 2005 to Abilene from the coast, Abilene set up a plan for sheltering evacuees, bussed people as needed and helped long term folks who were displaced. Horses and animals were also provided for. Evidently “donations management” is a huge thing in these cases.

Mostly prevention is focused on, in terms of possible disasters. In terms of Hazardous Materials (Hazmat) for example, close track is kept of what is going through town on the train. In terms of flooding risks, cleaning creeks and keeping debris removed has made a marked difference.

We found out about SKYWARN – a trained team of volunteers with weather software and storm spotters, in contact with the National Weather Service in San Angelo.

Citizens can sign up to receive notifications from CodeRED. Severe weather alerts will come by phone, text or email almost as soon as they are issued by the National Weather Service. Contact information remains private, and is used only for community alerts.


We heard about trash (solid waste services) pick-up, and alley clean-up. One thing I never really thought about was container maintenance. As in, keeping the trash containers in good repair. There are over 19,000 poly containers in use and over 2,700 metal containers, according to the department. There are 9 employees just taking care of this job. 1 crew chief, 2 sandblasters/painters, 2 welders, 2 compactor repair techs and 2 poly repair techs.

When it came time to hear from the Engineering Division of the Public Works department, things got surprisingly interesting. I’d never thought before, about how the timing and financing and coordinating of projects must be done so that no one part clashes with another. For example so that installing a water line, doesn’t rip up a newly laid or re-done street. This division plans 5 years ahead.

We heard about Capital Improvements – which must cost more than $25,000 (most are way more), and be something that has long-term (at least 15 year) benefit. These are hard, brick and mortar things. The Capital Improvement Plan survey, asking for feedback from residents is online.

CIP survey


We met our Land Agent – Travis McClure, a “one-man office.”

Who says, “the land that we own is as varied as what we do.”

A sample of what he works on:

–       manages deed database

–       Lake Ft. Phantom lot sales project (since 2008)

–       oil & gas drilling permits (this goes through several departments)

o   in 2008, 2 or 3 of these were issued/year, 8-10/year since then – in 2013, there were 22 issued

–       buffer zone land (around airport, water treatment plants)

–       title work

–       easements {def: “a right to cross or otherwise use someone else’s land for a specified purpose.”} – access to water & sewer, drainage

–       oversees leased buildings like TSTC – Texas State Technical College & Vleta’s (chocolate shop)

–       manages parking lots


At the Traffic Shop, we heard about the engineering side of traffic management, versus the enforcement or education sides.

Assuming a “reasonable & prudent driver,” traffic signs and other objects help direct motorists. It was fun and interesting to see how big signs actually are, and especially how giant a traffic light is.

Note: cameras for traffic signals sense a car on the pavement. They don’t keep track of citizens for the government – they’re not those kinds of cameras. :)

Reflectivity materials used in signs:

Diamond grade


High intensity prismatic

“Wind, dirt wipes printed lines off [roads] quick.”

When the “way-finding” (big blue signs around town) were ordered, the shop was not equipped to handle the size of them. Boom trucks were needed to lift some of them.

We heard about “hot mix overlay” or “2 course penetrated” asphalt.

We heard about crack sealing.

We heard about the 20,000 potholes in Abilene.

We heard about how on main arterial streets, frequent maintenance to keep quality up is cheaper overall.

I had not thought about a possible street tax. I wonder how this would work. I’ve always liked the idea of toll roads – pay as you use. Not that those would be possible in towns.


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