Repairs aren’t the only options for the future of Cullen Boulevard

David Delgado/The Daily Cougar

David Delgado/The Daily Cougar

Let me paint a picture most Cougars will be familiar with. You’re commuting to campus after puttering through miles of traffic. You pass through the University gateway at the entrance of Cullen Boulevard.

You trudge past the over-packed dirt economy lots with the hope of finding more luck in the Wheeler and Cullen corner lot. You’re betting that there will at least be a space originally intended for a Smart Car into which you can uncomfortably squeeze — if you can arrive in one piece.

In order to reach this malnourished spot, you first have to make your way down the bumpy, suspension-murdering terrain that is the concrete road we students waywardly drive down.

Cullen Boulevard is the thorn in the Cougar paw of our University.

Multiple times we’ve heard promises that Cullen Boulevard would be remodeled, without follow-through. However, during Mayor Annise Parker’s last visit to UH, she empathized with Cougars during her guest speech.

Parker acknowledged that the Cullen Boulevard situation was less than favorable, and she said the city of Houston would begin looking for a solution to our treacherous terrain.

UH has been in limbo with the city for awhile now concerning the rights to Cullen. While roads in Houston are meant to be maintained and repaired by the city and paid for by the taxes of the people of Houston, universities fall under different standards than the surrounding roads.

I sat down with SGA Director of External Affairs Bria Riley to discuss her part as one of the frontrunners of the Cullen initiative.

“Our main prerogative this year was really trying to get the city of Houston to give us a declaration or some type of timeline saying that they would go back in to rebuild Cullen,” Riley said.

In addition, Riley spoke with me about the ReBuild Houston initiative that Parker is involved with. Parker implemented it to make Houston a safer and more beautiful place.

According to RebuildHouston.org, the project is “the city of Houston’s initiative to improve the quality of life and mobility for residents of the city by rebuilding our drainage and street infrastructure.”

Basically, the city of Houston looks at the streets with the most deplorable conditions and places them on a priority list. Then they use the tax dollars collected from within that area to repair and maintain streets.

Because of this fact, the main problem preventing any real work from being done to Cullen has been deciding where to get the funds to fix it. The problem is that UH is a university campus; therefore, the University is unable to collect taxes because it is an educational institution.

Currently, UH administrators and officials with the city of Houston are in negotiations concerning finances toward the restructuring of Cullen.

One finance option in the mix is connecting UH with a neighboring tax-increment-reinvestment zone so that the University may funnel work with this zone to, in a way, inadvertently pay for taxes.

Following the financial debate, the next step would be finding the time to do this rebuilding.

With the construction of our new multimillion-dollar stadium, Cullen Boulevard will hopefully receive patchwork before the grand opening in August 2014. Yes, I said patchwork.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed to find out that mere patchwork was being done. While I wasn’t expecting Cullen to be paved with golden angel tears, the word “patchwork” being used to describe the fixing of a street that needs to be completely rebuild was kind of disappointing.

Some Cougars may now want to throw their hands in the air in light of hearing that the equivalent of a Band-Aid is going to be used to fix our street, but don’t lose hope yet, because definite changes are in the future.

While these changes are not yet concrete, there have been options tossed around about how to proceed with Cullen.

The most familiar option for Cullen Boulevard between Wheeler and Elgin is to eventually rip up the entire street and begin from scratch.

Other options involve closing off a section of Cullen in order to encompass it into the campus community. This closed-off area may become either a series of walkways, grass and fountains used to connect the University or a grassy area used to host tailgate tents for the games.

The Daily Cougar set up a poll to find out which of these options Cougars would prefer.

As of Thursday, the poll showed that 38 percent of students want Cullen Boulevard to be completely repaved so that people may drive safely; 46 percent would prefer to have Cullen enclosed to create a series of fountains and walkways connecting the University to the dorms, stadium and gymnasium; 10 percent of Cougars would be content with patchwork that would not shut down the boulevard for an extended period of time. Only 6 percent of students would like Cullen Boulevard to be used as a tailgating space for football games and functions.

In the beginning, Riley was unsure of how she personally felt about the options to change Cullen Boulevard.

“Initially I was like, ‘No, there is going to be so much traffic if we have to go around, and there aren’t enough streets on this University as is, and it’ll get backed up. We need Cullen to stay open,” Riley said.

“But now that I’m thinking about it, it would either be (Cullen being reconstructed) or making it a tailgate zone. If we are going to be shutting it down completely and encompassing it into the University, it doesn’t need to be a waste of space, basically. If we can utilize it to our advantage, we should.”

After the initial patchwork is done, the hope is that major changes will be made within that same year and finished within the following two years.

In the end, students’ concern and dedication are what spearheaded this operation, so it’s good to remember that we can make some kind of difference — even if it takes years.

In the meantime, students can go to the SGA-created Improve UH website at improve.uh.edu to discuss our campus community with their peers. Students are encouraged to make meaningful suggestions and to remember that administrators of the school look at Improve UH, so change is possible.

There is hope for Cullen Boulevard — and our sanity.

 Senior staff columnist Kelly Schafler is a print journalism junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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