• Media Coverage of New I-69 Section in Harris and Montgomery Counties

July 31, 2012

Here are excerpts of media coverage of the final action adding 35 miles of US 59 from Houston to Liberty County to the national Interstate Highway System.

Texas highway panel names 35 miles of road as I-69
Associated Press  7/30/12 By Michael Graczyk
The Texas Transportation Commission has given the green light to a 35-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 59 from Houston north to carry the designation as Interstate 69.

The section of road - from Interstate 610 in Houston northeast through Montgomery County to just north of the Montgomery and Liberty County line - is the longest stretch of the much-debated I-69 in the state. It joins a six-mile portion near Corpus Christi along U.S. 77 as the only pieces of the newest interstate in Texas. Both were reconstructed in recent years to interstate highway standards.

For some two decades, backers of the project have longed for an interstate highway that traverses the state from the northeast corner, through East Texas and Houston to South Texas and the Mexico border. No one knows when the overall project may be completed.

New road signs with the familiar red, white and blue interstate crest will be going up, marking the newly designated piece of road as U.S. 59 and I-69, Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Mark Cross said Monday.

Two more rebuilt segments of U.S. 59 from Houston to Sugar Land and Rosenberg in Fort Bend County are under Federal Highway Administration review to officially become pieces of I-69.
The Transportation Commission also approved a $60 million project to upgrade to interstate standards 10 miles of U.S. 77 between Corpus Christi and Kingsville in South Texas.

According to the Alliance for I-69 Texas, a coalition of cities, counties and local groups along the route that have advocated for the highway, some 230 miles of road already are at limited access interstate standards.

"It is a great thing, it's happening, but it's just one project at a time," John Thompson, the Polk County judge and chair of the alliance, said Monday. "The red, white and blue shield is a very powerful tool in the economic development business, not just the practicality of relieving congestion and moving freight."

Money that was dedicated for the Interstate Highway System expired in the mid-1990s, making new projects more difficult, he said.

"You've got to figure out how to piecemeal it," Thompson said. "Absolutely it's slow. If we had a big pot of money, it wouldn't be."

In the early days of interstate construction, initiated in 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower, there were fewer concerns about environmental impacts and land rights. Government money flowed and pavement was laid down.

"Now we have a very rigid process and not the least of which is trying to figure out how to pay for it," Thompson said.

Part of U.S. 59 being renamed Interstate 69
Houston Chronicle 7/31/12 By Cindy Horswell
The first Houston-area piece of a trade corridor - debated for more than a decade and envisioned as one day linking Mexico to Canada - has been officially designated.

Motorists will soon notice new road signs naming a 35-mile stretch of existing U.S. 59, from the 610 Loop to FM 787 in Cleveland, as part of the new Interstate 69.

With little fanfare, the Texas Transportation Commission recently voted to put up the new signage while keeping the U.S. 59 designation.

The state's director of transportation planning and development, James Koch, said recently that the Interstate 69 corridor was a "priority" and that the state would be assigning I-69 designations to existing highways that could be upgraded to an interstate, such as U.S. 59.

"Those trucks are coming whether we put a sign up or not," Koch told the Chronicle in March, referring to tractor-trailer rigs coming from Mexico.

I-69 work advances
Longview News-Journal 7/31/12
Progress continues in the development of Interstate 69 in Texas, according to the Texas Transportation Commission.

The commission late this past week gave approval to designating a segment of I-69, concurrent with U.S. 59, from north of the Liberty County line to Interstate 610 North in Houston, a total distance of approximately 35 miles.

The I-69 project runs from the U.S.-Mexican border on the south and runs northeast through East Texas on it's way to Canada. While the main part of the proposed route veers into Louisiana in Panola County, an alternative route continues roughly along U.S. 59 through Panola, Harrison, Marion, Cass and Bowie counties with a connection with I-30 near Texarkana.

Completed highway segments not connected to an existing interstate highway can now be added to the Interstate Highway System, paving the way for U.S. 59 to become part of the I-69 system, according to Charles Thomas, from Carthage and a member of the Alliance for I-69 Texas.

Thomas said the project has been in the planning stages for more than 25 years.
Because of a change in federal law, about 100 miles of I-69 routes already at or near interstate highway standards, including U.S. 59, can be part of the I-69 corridor.

The exact I-69 route has yet to be determined, but is getting close, said James Carlow, who represents the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce for the I-69 project.

Carlow told the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority board earlier of the progress made on the I-69 project and other transportation projects. He said five route plans were submitted to the I-69 Advisory Committee in June. From those five, one 1,000 mile route will be designated, Carlow said.
"It will take several meetings, several months to get that done," he said. "The biggest obstacle is funding, but we wanted to start somewhere."

Linda Thomas, chairwoman of the NET Regional Mobility Authority, said the progress is encouraging.

"This is a dream come true for a lot of people," she said earlier.

The recent action of the Texas Transportation Commission falls in line with that of the Houston-Galveston Area Council, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and the Federal Highway Administration, all which also earlier approved the designation of this segment as Interstate 69.

Officials add another link in Interstate 69's Mexico-to-Michigan chain
Corpus Christi Caller Times 7/26/12  By Mark Collette
A second segment of Texas highway was officially dubbed Interstate 69 on Thursday, and while it brings construction of the Texas portion of the long-planned interstate to less than 7 percent completion, transportation officials in Corpus Christi hailed it as a milestone.

That's because the interstate, hoped one day to stretch from Laredo, through the Coastal Bend and on to the Canadian border in Michigan, isn't being built the old-fashioned way.

In this era of limited highway funds, Texas is taking a pay-as-you-go approach, developing tiny portions of the statewide project as the money and local wherewithal become available, instead of waiting to do it all at once. In December, I-69 signs went up on a 6.2-mile section of U.S. 77 in Robstown.

"It's not an accident that the first sign was put up there," Texas Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin said, saying South Texans are ahead of other areas of the state in terms of local leaders working together with state and federal officials to agree on project specifics and move them forward.

Thursday, the commission, holding a rare meeting outside Austin in Corpus Christi, authorized naming a 35-mile section of U.S. Highway 59 north of Houston as I-69. A key provision of the I-69 plan is to minimize new construction through the use of existing highways, many of which already are close to interstate highway standards.