• Interstate 69 Comes to Texarkana and the Valley
The Texas Transportation Commission has given final approval to designation of an additional 117.1 miles of freeway in South Texas and Northeast Texas as part of the Interstate 69 system. The Federal Highway Administration approved the four highway sections last week.
The newly designated interstate sections mean a total of 186 miles of the I-69 route that have been added to the Interstate System in the past two years.
“This is a landmark day in the 20-year effort to make I-69 a reality in Texas,” said John Thompson, Alliance board chairman. “It is the result of a sustained local, state and federal cooperative effort. Community leaders along the I-69 route have relentlessly pursued this goal because they know that moving people and freight efficiently is vital to our economy and our quality of life.”
Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin praised the work of the Alliance for I-69 Texas, the TxDOT I-69 Advisory Committee and the five I-69 Segment Committees. He noted that I-69 has become a reality "you can actually drive on." He said it is worth noting that now I-69 "starts" in Texas at the Rio Grande.
Transportation Commissioner Jeff Moseley pointed out the importance of continued development of I-69 as a very strategic corridor to the state. "With a $1.4 trillion state economy there is no doubt that I-69 is significant to continuing to provide jobs and growth of the total assessed value of our state. My hat is off to Commissioner Austin and all the efforts that have gone into getting us to this point. This is a dynamic corridor and it clearly ties in to international trade," he said.
Transportation Commissioner Fred Underwood praised communities along the I-69 route for working together and not letting their thinking stop at the county line. "The more this happens it makes it so much more easy for our staff and for the commission to help because everyone is working in the same direction," he said.
VALLEY GETS THREE INTERSTATE SEGMENTS
Transportation Commission action means that for the first time the large population centers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley will be served by the Interstate Highway System. Three Valley highways are now interstates.
US 77 through Cameron and Willacy Counties will be signed as Interstate 69 East. This includes 53.3 miles of existing freeway starting at the Rio Grande in Brownsville and running north past Raymondville.
The 13.5 miles of US 281 freeway in Pharr and Edinburg will be signed as Interstate 69 Central, a designation that will eventually extend northward all the way to George West.
The east-west US 83 freeway that connects more than a dozen Valley cities has been designated as Interstate 2. It extends approximately 46.8 miles from Harlingen to west of Mission. US 83 was not designated by Congress as part of I-69 but the Alliance for I-69 Texas and community leaders have insisted over the years that it should be considered an interstate connector between the legs of I-69.
The Lower Rio Grande Valley interstate highway designations were made possible by the passage of milestone federal legislation championed by the Alliance for I-69 Texas over a period of several years and passed in 2012 as part of MAP-21. The effort led by Congressmen Blake Farenthold and Ruben Hinojosa and Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, and co-sponsored by every member of the Texas Delegation along the proposed I-69 route removed from federal law a requirement that completed highway segments must be connected to an existing interstate highway before they could be added to the Interstate Highway System.
I-369 IN NORTHEAST TEXAS
The Transportation Commission also designated a 3.5-mile section of US 59 freeway on the southwest side of Texarkana as Interstate 369. The three-digit I-69 spur designation will eventually be given to the entire 115-mile section of US 59 from Texarkana to a point near Tenaha in Shelby County. This is necessary because the planned national route for I-69 leaves Texas following US 84 near Joaquin and heads northeast into Louisiana and southeast Arkansas.
Interstate 69 in Texas is being developed as a series of incremental upgrades to existing highways following US 59 from Texarkana to Houston and south to Victoria. In South Texas there will be three branches of the I-69 System including US 59 leading to Laredo (I-69W), US 281 south to McAllen (I-69C), and US 77 from Victoria to Corpus Christi and on to Brownsville (I-69E).
The first 6.2-mile section of I-69 is on the western edge of Corpus Christi and was signed in 2011. It was initially designated at I-69. To be consistent with the federal statute the route numbering for this section will be changed to I-69E.
A 35-mile section of the Eastex Freeway became I-69 in 2012 and a 28-mile section of Houston’s Southwest Freeway became I-69 earlier this year.
Marc Williams,TxDOT Director of Planning, pointed out that staff at TxDOT and at the regional FHWA office has spent months getting the complex designation applications successfully through the approval process and praised those efforts.
FUTURE INTERSTATE DESIGNATIONS
The 11-mile section of US 59 through downtown Houston is under engineering review by the Texas Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. It is anticipated it will be added to I-69 within the coming year.
Before a segment of highway can be added to he Interstate Highway System, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AAASHTO) must take action toapprove the application. Additionally, FHWA must confirm that the highway segment meets the applicable Interstate designation regulations and criteria, and approve any associated design exception equests. Following that the FHWA Adminstrator must take action to approve the addition to the national system. Finally, the Texas Transportation Commission must approve the designation.
TxDOT has programmed a total of $742 million in funded I-69 route projects to be completed over the next few years.