HOUSTON -

When Hurricane Ike blew into Texas, it caused almost $25 billion in damage. As bad as Ike was, researchers at Rice University fear an even bigger hurricane and a surge twice that high.

"Right now, we are very, very vulnerable, extremely vulnerable to a direct hit from a hurricane," expressed Dr. Phillip Bedient, Director of the SSPEED Center at Rice University. SSPEED stands for Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters.

"If Ike was just 20 miles further down the coast, another 170,000 homes would have been destroyed," explained former director of the National Hurricane Center and current KPRC Local 2 Hurricane Expert Bill Read, "And that would have flooded the plants in the Houston Ship Channel."

That's why during a conference at Rice University this week, researchers unveiled a plan to fight massive storms with a massive new floodgate across the Houston Ship Channel.

The so-called Centennial Gate would go up near the Fred Hartman Bridge. It would stand 25 feet above sea level and stretch up to 1,000 feet across. It would swing shut and close off the enormous wall of water from a surge as high as 25 feet.

"The probability of an event of when we need that is almost certain, I just can't tell you when," warned Read.

The cost of building the bridge is estimated at $1.5 billion. Researchers say that is actually a bargain since the businesses that call the Houston Ship Channel home give 150,000 Houstonians a job and bring $178 billion into the economy.

"It's time this area starts to step up and worry about this," urged Bedient.

Funding the project is still in the works, but those behind the project believe it will come from Harris County taxpayers and those businesses and complexes in the Houston Ship Channel.