Con: City, county lack money during recession to commit to road extension
March 28, 2010 at 11 p.m.
Updated March 28, 2010 at 10:29 p.m.
Two different routes
Officials appear to be on a divided highway when it comes to a multimillion dollar plan to extend Airline Road one mile east of Victoria.
Both the city of Victoria and Victoria County have made financial commitments to help build the road, which would lead to property where the University of Houston-Victoria would have enough room to build a new campus.
Victoria attorney Frank Buhler III has offered to donate to the university 100 acres near the Victoria Regional Airport. There is discussion about providing an option for an additional 200 acres for the expansion.
The university has not accepted the offer. But city and county officials hope the offer to extend Airline will show the community's support.
No one on the city council or commissioners court has expressed opposition to the university expansion. The questions deal with extending Airline Road at this point.
City Council Member Gabriel Soliz said he supports the expansion of the University of Houston-Victoria.
A better-educated population means more and better paying jobs, he said. But the city's commitment to spend $8 million to help build an extension of Airline Road could strain an already-tight budget, he said.
"If we actually want to see the expansion go through, we are going to have to make some sacrifices," he said. "I'm not too happy about it, especially with us being in the middle of fighting off a recession."
Spending that money would likely mean having to delay rebuilding part of Red River Street and could delay improvements to Lone Tree Road and replacing badly deteriorated utilities in the Greenbriar Addition, he said.
Emett Alvarez, a candidate for Super District 5 on the council, said he supports the university expansion, but he's against the proposed Airline extension. He said that's especially true since it appears the university is not interested in accepting the property offered by Victoria attorney Frank Buhler III.
"You're putting the cart before the horse with no definite indication that the university is seriously considering a five-year or 10-year expansion out onto that site," he said.
Alvarez also questioned why the city council called a special meeting and made a sudden decision to agree to spend up to $8 million to extend the road.
"From all appearances, they rammed this decision through the council will very little discussion and with very little contemplation," he said. "The public had very little input and very little knowledge of what was going on."
Alvarez said he's not convinced the city has the money it needs to build the road and he's not sure the council was armed with all the facts it needed to make the decision so quickly. The sales tax income is down and the economy is suffering through difficult times, he said.
"Yet the city just continues to go on a spending spree on every opportunity that presents itself," he said.
The commissioners court has committed to providing up $1.5 million in materials, drainage work and similar help to assist with the Airline extension.
County Commissioner Kevin Janak said he's not against the university expansion and not necessarily against the extension of Airline. But he said he has concerns about whether all of the possibilities have been considered.
"This is a very delicate thing that I believe in," he said. "I don't want to do anything that would jeopardize it."
But he questioned whether yet another overpass will be needed at Airline and Zac Lentz Parkway if Airline is extended. The city and county just recently scrambled to come up with funding to help pay for overpasses on the parkway at Salem Road and Mockingbird Lane, near where the East High School is being built.
That put a strain on the county budget, he said.
Yet, Janak said, he doesn't want such issues as building an overpass and who is going to pay for it to destroy the chance of the university expanding. He said the benefits of a better educated population resulting from an improved university will outweigh the cost of an overpass.
Related story:Pro: City, county must show support for UHV expansion