• Texarkana Freeway Added to Interstate 69 System
Leaders in Northeast Texas have been working for two decades to help make Interstate 69 a reality in Texas. A September 23rd ceremony in Texarkana celebrated the addition of 3.5 miles of US 59 to the Interstate Highway System with the designation Interstate 369. The section stretches south from Interstate 30 on the west side of Texarkana.
Addition of this section means that a total 186 miles of Texas highways have been added to the Interstate System as part of I-69 in the past two years. That includes 63 miles of I-69/US 59 in the Houston area. The I-69 route in Texas includes about 1,030 miles of US 59, US 84, US 77 and US 281.
Former Bowie County Judge James Carlow, who has been continuously involved in the I-69 effort for the past 20 years and who is Alliance for I-69 Texas vice chairman, told a celebration luncheon that public support for I-69 in Texas is at an all-time high.
Judge Carlow recognized the lasting contributions of Charles Thomas, president of the Carthage Economic Development Corporation. He recalled that it was Thomas who 20 years ago pulled together leaders in Northeast Texas to deliver the message that if they did not get organized that I-69 was going to exit Texas at Teneha in Shelby County. That would mean that the five counties along US 59 from Texarkana to south of Carthage would be left out. “Thanks to that effort we are here today to add our first piece to the I-69 system,” Carlow said.
The 117 mile leg of US 59 from Teneha to Texarkana is part of High Priority Corridor 20 designated by Congress.
Texas Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin III of Tyler was introduced by Carlow as a banker, a transportation guru and the first chairman of the multi-county North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority.
Austin thanked all those who have participated in an intensive grassroots planning effort for I-69 over the past five years. “The progress of the segment committees really signifies the success of why this project is working and will continue to work. They are recommending routes and where relief routes should go. We are looking at how to take the existing footprint and make it work,” he said. He also praised the strong state and federal advocacy work of the Alliance for I-69 Texas.
Austin pointed to the fact that the population along the I-69 corridor increased by 25% during the past decade and stressed the importance of the corridor. “I-69 is bringing connectivity to parts of the state that have not had access to the interstate system. It is no secret that people are going to go and “grow” where there is an interstate highway.”
He urges highway advocates to keep pushing forward on projects along the route in Texas, connecting the sections like I-369 that are now complete. He said connectivity is important for the state’s major seaports, for the border ports of entry and for inland transportation hubs such as the developing TexAmericas complex west of Texarkana.
The gathering also heard remarks from Congressman Ralph Hall, State Senator Kevin Eltife, State Representative George Lavender, Chamber of Commerce CEO Jeff Sandford and TexAmericas Executive Director Bill Cork.
Congressman Hall said progress on I-69 will provide more efficient access to destinations throughout the state and stressed that I-69 will be an important addition to the national and international mobility system. He pointed to the need for completion of the Texarkana West Loop as a way to better serve freight movements in the region.
Senator Eltife said that Texas has failed to adequately fund highways and that TxDOT faces a funding crisis in 2015 when the agency will no longer have funding to continue planning new projects.
“If we don’t raise taxes and fund highway transportation in this state we are going to go further in debt and mortgage the future of this state. It is wrong and we need to raise taxes to fund infrastructure. It is not going to happen on its own,” he said. Eltife noted that Texas has been relying on debt financing to build highway projects for the past decade.
“Let me tell you that it would have been much more conservative ten years ago to raise the gas tax and index it to inflation than to have gone $20 billion into debt. That is a tax on our future generations,” he said.
Representative Lavender said that highway funding should be a top priority of the state but that the Legislature has not done its job. He urged transportation supporters to work to make other lawmakers understand how important transportation is. “It is something we have to do for our future,” he said.
Carlow noted that Lavender played a pivotal role in the 2013 Legislature in pressing for more funding but that “it has not been easy.” In the end TxDOT received only a small increase in funding for the next two years. If passed by the voters, a constitutional amendment offered by lawmakers will fill about 20% of the state’s projected highway funding shortfall.
Bill Cork noted that Texarkana is now served by Interstate 30, Interstate 369 in Texas and Interstate 49 in Arkansas. It is one of only a fairly small group of cities in the nation served by three long distance interstate highways. “With these corridors coming through Texarkana we really have no idea what kind of explosive growth we are going to have in this region. I look forward to working with you to realize that growth,” he said.
Judge John Thompson, chairman of the Alliance for I-69 Texas and county judge of Polk County, explained that the Alliance has been able to “hang together” for 20 years because leaders all along the route share in the success of each completed project, wherever it is along the long road from Texarkana to the Rio Grande Valley.
“Judge Carlow is like a lot of us who work on I-69,” County Judge Thompson said. “It is not our first job, it is not what pays the bills, it is our passion because we know that transportation is essential to a good economy and good economic development and that is essential to improving the lives of the people that we work for.”
“We are a family. Thanks to Texarkana for staying with us. We will only achieve the real full benefit of I-69 when every section is complete and we have connected Texas to the other states on the route up to Port Huron, Michigan,” he concluded.
US 59 Freeway Now I-369
Celebration luncheon at Texarkana Convention Center
Judge John Thompson (l) and TxDOT District Engineer Bob Ratcliff (r) present autographed I-369 sign to James Carlow, longtime I-69 advocate and former county judge of Bowie County.
Alliance for I-69 Texas Chairman John Thompson urged communities to continue to work together