A group of Edinburg residents banded together to confront city leaders about the road construction happening in front of their homes. And in a not-always-likely turn of events, the community members’ actions caused the City to shift their construction plan.
Charlie Vela is one of several residents along Schunior Road dealing with the latest installment of street construction. He’s lived close to The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley for 10 years — an area known for high traffic and speeding cars, especially during the school year.
The construction on Schunior has been going on for about six months. During that time, the City installed a new waterline and upgraded utilities, but the main project is reconstructing the roadway and adding a median to the street.
Vela kept an eye on the construction process, noting the progress and how it affected his family’s routine. But in addition to the general obstacles that come with living in a construction zone, Vela realized the new median would permanently alter how he and his neighbors would get in and out of their homes.
“Once the concrete dried, it was really clear that it was going to be really difficult to get out of our houses,” the homeowner said. “We were going to be bumping our tires every time we pulled out of the driveway.”
He explained that the roadwork essentially turned the street into a one-way and required a complicated route to even drive east toward the expressway.
“It’s something that maybe on paper sounds good, it’s going to help mitigate some of the speeding and traffic jams that happen on Schunior Street,” Vela said. “But in practice it was really hard to see how we were supposed to continue to use the street as residents.”
He said the frustration also stemmed from a lack of communication from the City of Edinburg and the feeling like there was no end in sight to the roadwork.
But after coming together with his neighbors and some back and forth with city staff, the residents finally got an audience with city leaders to hear their concerns. The community members stated their case and won the city leaders over, prompting a change to the construction project in their area.
At the Oct. 4 Edinburg City Council meeting, the council voted to approve a change order to redesign the roadway, ultimately removing the median from the construction plan between Robert Street and Dr. Miguel A. Nevarez Drive.
The changes to the project are within the contract, and Assistant City Manager Tom Reyna said the new work will begin about seven days from Oct. 5. The total project cost is $3.1 million, which voters approved through a bond election in 2019, Reyna said.
The assistant city manager also said the City will launch a public outreach program to ensure better communication between Edinburg and the residents when it comes to construction projects. He was unable to specify how the outreach program will work.
“Construction projects usually get worse before they get better,” Reyna said. “So there’s no guarantee that we’ll stop somebody complaining during construction because somebody will be affected. It is an inconvenience but it’s gotta get worse before it gets better.”
As for Vela and his neighbors, he said the overall takeaway is that the process went “surprisingly well.” He encourages residents to work together if faced with a similar issue.
“I crack the joke that nothing makes a community faster than being angry about the same thing,” he said with a laugh. “So if I was in a situation where I didn’t know my neighbors, I don’t think anything would have happened. So being able to show up as a group, and being able to present the issue [with clarity] really helps. I was impressed with the way that, I would have assumed, it would be really easy to blow us off but [the City] didn’t do that.”