The University of Houston-Victoria’s long-awaited official entry on Ben Wilson Street is still in the design stage but is closer to becoming a reality.
If the project, which has been in discussion since 2015 and was approved in March 2020, continues to progress as planned, the official entryway should be ready for use in early 2023.
While that may seem like a long time, the wait will be worth it as the university works with the city to make sure the entry sends the right message to visitors to the campus as well as benefits the city.
The project will reduce Ben Wilson Street, which connects the east and west parts of the campus, from four travel lanes and a turn lane to three lanes from U.S. 59 to Airline Road. A crosswalk, sidewalks and other safety measures will be added. A clock tower and a sign, among other amenities, will also be featured.
The project, called Ben Wilson Street Corridor Project, will help the longstanding flooding issues in the area, but it will not solve the problem along Red River Street where the flooding problem is the worst, said Ken Gill, the city’s engineer.
The Red River Outfall drainage issue is a separate project that will need to be tackled separately by the city. Part of the problem is the pipes in that project are too small to carry the drainage load for the approximate 200 homes in the area, causing water to back up during high intensity rains.
One of the first heavy rainstorms to hit in May resulted in at least eight homes being flooded, Gill said. Numerous cars also stalled and flooded as drivers tried to traverse the street.
The city is seeking federal funding for part of the $15-million Red River project. The request was sent to Congressman Michael Cloud’s office. For the sake of those who live in that area, it is important the request is acted upon soon so this problem that has existed for many years can be addressed.
The university is helping the Ben Wilson drainage problems by the way it is building new buildings and adding larger drainage pipes underground. Builders are using less concrete and more impervious ground covering, which gives the area a more natural look while aiding in the drainage.
But, Gill said, a retention pond, which has been discussed over the years, is not viable on Ben Wilson because there is not enough open space for one.
The city hopes to have the designs for the Ben Wilson corridor completed and approved by both entities by September so they can seek bids in September and October. Construction would begin in January.
The university is paying the city for the entire $7-million project, which Gill said is a new avenue for the city.
The university hopes by creating an official entry to the campus, it will help the university’s goal of becoming a destination campus and grow its enrollment to 6,000 students by 2025.
Most universities have an official entry point that signals to students they have arrived for the next phase of their lives. This corridor will be that point.
The designers and officials will continue to work to make this visionary project a reality.
With some thought and planning, this could easily be the first of many visionary projects the city takes on in the right situation that will improve other parts of the city.