City paves way for UHV corridor

Marina Riker By Marina Riker

Sept. 12, 2017 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated Sept. 13, 2017 at 8:21 a.m.

The plan for new the new UHV corridor.

The plan for new the new UHV corridor.   contributed photo for The Victoria Advocate

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to pave the way for the University of Houston-Victoria to rebuild Ben Wilson Street, marking the end of almost two years of discussions.

Tuesday's decision comes after some council members had concerns about traffic congestion and whether the city should make a profit on the project. During the meeting, several business leaders and Victoria residents spoke in support of the plan, which calls for reducing Ben Wilson Street from five lanes to three to boost safety for students.

"The university realizes now the potential of our community," said former Mayor Will Armstrong, who has continuously advocated for the university's expansion. "They're spending unbelievable amounts of money in this community."

For years, the university has wanted to create a cohesive campus corridor equipped with crosswalks, medians and landscaping. The plan would allow the university to safely grow from 1,500 to 6,000 students, many of whom would need to cross Ben Wilson Street each day.

The city still has to agree on an official contract. So far, the plan calls for allowing the university to purchase two lanes of Ben Wilson for the amount it would cost the city to improve the remaining three lanes.

Also Tuesday, the City Council approved a $130 million budget for 2018 - one that doesn't include specific funding for Hurricane Harvey recovery.

Just more than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey damaged hundreds of homes and shut down the city's water service, the city is in the process of coming up with an exact estimate for damage caused by the storm. Officials estimate Hurricane Harvey could be one of the most costly natural disasters in U.S. history - more than Katrina and Sandy combined, according to one national estimate.

Even though there isn't a specific expense line in the budget, city officials said its reserve fund could take on costs that aren't covered by insurance, state or federal money.

"Hurricane Harvey is a perfect example of why the reserve fund was created," said Gilbert Reyna, the city's finance director. "But we will always seek outside funding sources, if available, as a first option for funding."

But before the city dips into that fund, it's seeking money from insurance policies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state funds to fix damages.

If the city's reserve funds are used, they should be replaced, Reyna said.

But one big questions among residents is still unanswered - what the city will do about its water system failing after the storm.

In response, city staff member are reviewing what went wrong - and what they can do better in the future, Reyna said.

City staff plan to talk about Hurricane Harvey's impacts on city operations during Oct. 17's council meeting, Reyna said.

"As with any disaster, we always review what went well and what can be improved," said Reyna.



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