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City’s block alters UNT’s game plan

Profile image for By Rachel Mehlhaff / Staff Writer
By Rachel Mehlhaff / Staff Writer

The city of Denton has allayed the Denia neighborhood's concerns about the impact of traffic flow to the new University of North Texas football stadium by agreeing to shut down Willowwood Street during Mean Green games.

UNT's original plan was to route about 1,900 vehicles from McCormick Street down Willowwood to Bonnie Brae Street and into stadium parking lots.

But the city decided to close Willowwood starting an hour and a half before kickoff and leaving it closed until traffic clears after the game, said Fred Greene, assistant city manager.

On Monday, the UNT Board of Regents approved a plan to build two additional access points into lots at the stadium, which is scheduled to open in the fall.

The university's new $450,000 plan will involve building access from North Texas Boulevard and the south Interstate 35E frontage road to the north parking lot of the stadium.

Denia residents will be given placards to put in their cars to show they live in the neighborhood and can access Willowwood.

There will also be signs on the streets to help people get to the stadium without cutting through the Denia neighborhood, Greene said.

Residents of the neighborhood had safety concerns about traffic as well as people parking on the area's streets.

"We appreciate the support the city has given us as a neighborhood," said Alice Gore, vice president of the Denia Area Neighborhood Group.

The neighborhood was hoping for this solution from the beginning, she said.

"I think it's what they should have planned all along," Gore said.

She said she believed that routing traffic through the neighborhood limited residents from coming and going during football games.

Greene said the city wanted to take the concerns of the neighborhood seriously.

"We are a city of neighborhoods, all of which have a voice," he said.

There are plans to expand Bonnie Brae, but traffic is always going to be an issue with big events, Greene said.

He said he believes the access from the frontage road is the answer but understands that it was a cost issue for UNT.

While money is tight, it isn't the only issue.

The university plans for some fans to park on the north side of I-35E and walk to the new stadium. The university was trying to avoid having pedestrians walk across the North Texas Boulevard bridge over I-35E alongside a lot of vehicles, said Rich Escalante, vice chancellor for administrative services with the UNT system.

For safety reasons, the university didn't want people and cars on the same bridge.

But because the Willowwood closure reduces access from McCormick, more traffic will be routed to North Texas Boulevard, where people also will be walking from the main campus to the new stadium.

"The police department is working on a plan to work pedestrians and vehicles across the bridge safely," he said. "That is our goal, and we will do that."

A pedestrian bridge scheduled to be constructed by the Texas Department of Transportation won't be in place until 2012.

Escalante said the university conducted traffic studies that showed having vehicles use Willowwood to get to Bonnie Brae wouldn't create a problem.

"We are spending a considerable amount of money, and the existing roadway would support the traffic," Escalante said.

Lane Rawlins, UNT's president, took part in meetings with the city. He said the university will have to accept the city's decision and move forward.

Rawlins said that even though this wasn't the university's original plan, it will offer better access to the stadium.

"I think that issue, at least for the time being, is over, and we will make the best of our options," Rawlins said.

RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is .