Universal City, Texas, recently finished renovating a 3.1-mile-long corridor in its central business district. The $7.5 million streetscape project has changed an unattractive, cluttered road into a safer, landscaped roadway.
Pat Booker Road was built in the 1930s to provide access to Randolph Air Force Base from San Antonio. Unrestrained by building codes or ordinances, businesses flocked to the four-lane road attracting approximately 27,000 vehicles per day in the city of nearly 15,000 residents. An outdated design that included a continuous left-turn lane created dangerous conditions for motorists and pedestrians, and new retail developments just outside the city attracted shoppers away from businesses on Pat Booker Road. Numerous utility poles, an absence of landscaping and bar-ditch drainage contributed to an overall poor appearance, causing one local reporter to comment that the road was “arguably one of the ugliest thoroughfares in South Texas.”
In 1998, the city’s economic development board, the Universal City Industrial Development Corp. (UCIDC), organized focus groups of residents and businesses to determine how to improve the road. In 1999, the board paid the Texas A&M School of Landscape Architecture and Design $30,000 to create concepts for the redevelopment project. Initial plans called for construction of sidewalks, curbs and landscape installations. Eventually, those plans grew to include a traffic signal system upgrade, underground stormwater system construction, water line extension, overhead utility relocation, utility pole replacement, streetlight installation, bicycle lane addition and traffic calming island construction.
Major construction began in February 2003 with utility pole replacement and streetlight installation, and one year later, Von Ormy, Texas-based E.E. Hood & Sons began installing curbs, sidewalks, drainage, water lines and landscaping. Throughout the project, UCIDC held public hearings and distributed quarterly flyers to business owners located along the road. Also, a few days before construction was set to begin on a section of the road, the city manager and the economic development director visited the businesses — nearly 250 total — that would be affected to describe the work that would be done and answer questions.
The Pat Booker Road streetscape project was completed in July 2005 and was paid for with a $1.72 million federal grant, $1.5 million in sales tax revenue bonds, and contributions from the Texas Department of Transportation, the local Metropolitan Planning Organization, the local utility and the city’s capital improvement fund. Universal City is supplementing the improvements with $5,000 matching grants to business owners in the corridor to help renovate storefronts. Businesses, residents and visitors have said that the city’s efforts are succeeding in making the corridor an attractive destination. The project earned an award this year for Best Public Improvement from the Austin-based Texas Downtown Association.