Pedestrian's death damages lives

Oscar Martinez, then 24, is shown in this June 1967 photograph. He died at 73 after being struck by a vehicle on Rio Grande Street in 2016.

Gabriel Martinez’s father was hit by a car as he crossed East Rio Grande Street on a Wednesday evening in 2016.

Oscar Martinez died 18 days later at age 73.

Martinez wasn’t the first person to get hit crossing the road there and hasn’t been the last. The area, near the H-E-B, is recognized as one of the city’s most dangerous blocks, which has sparked potential plans for change by Victoria’s City Council.

Donald Reese, the city’s public works director, told the council Oct. 1 that the city began looking into addressing the area about five years ago but didn’t pursue a project because of concerns about restricting access to businesses. He said about two years ago, the city added lighting to help increase safety for pedestrians, and the council revisited the matter again in late 2018, deciding to make decisions about a project in 2019.

But at their last meeting, council members delayed making a decision about the project to allow time for the staff to answer additional questions. The council is scheduled to revisit the matter Tuesday.

Martinez said he strongly agrees with the concerns and safety recommendations for the location, because still – three years after his father was hit – there have been “no real corrective actions.”

“It seems like pedestrians regularly have to dodge near misses, and accidents are still happening,” he said.

The Texas Department of Transportation and the city of Victoria put forth proposals to address the dangerous block. A potential project would add a signal at Azalea Street and other elements to provide a safe crossing for pedestrians in the area.

The state transportation agency and the city came up with different options on how to improve safety at the location. City staff said for any of the proposals to work, H-E-B, which is directly west of the existing Stolz Street and Houston Highway intersection, must relocate its driveway and Stolz Street must be realigned or terminated in a cul-de-sac.

The city, the transportation agency and H-E-B determined that terminating Stolz Street in a cul-de-sac is the best option, Reese said. Funding for the project would come from the transportation agency, H-E-B and the city.

In both proposals, the city plans to construct a sidewalk from the intersection of Azalea Street and Houston Highway to the Azalea Street and San Antonio Street intersection.

During the council’s discussion, some council members suggested looking into different methods to redesign the area, after one car wash owner said he was concerned that ending Stolz Street in a cul-de-sac could be a “detriment” to businesses because cutting off access to Stolz Street from Rio Grande Street would be less convenient for customers. The car would still have access directly from Rio Grande.

Although the council voted to table the conversation for two weeks, Councilman Rafael De La Garza said the council needs to “put pedestrian safety first.”

Morgan Theophil covers local government for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6511, or on Twitter.

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