• Interstate 69 Signs Up in Robstown

December 6, 2011
Rio Grande Guardian

By Steve Taylor

ROBSTOWN - History was made on Monday when TxDOT officially unveiled the first segment of I-69 in Texas, a 6.2 mile stretch of road along Highway 77 linking Robstown to I-37 and Corpus Christi.

Many elected officials from across South Texas were present for the event, along with TxDOT's executive director Phil Wilson and the Federal Highway Administration's point person in Texas, Jan Brown.

The unveiling was made at an underpass at the intersection of Highways 77 and 44. It was a bitterly cold day so speeches were kept to a minimum. Everyone present was in agreement that while celebrations were in order, there was still a long way to go to make I-69 a reality in Texas.

"The way I look at it is, we've got 993.8 miles and 6.2 miles under our belt, so our work is not done," said Judy Hawley, a Port of Corpus Christi Authority commissioner and chair of TxDOT's I-69 Advisory Committee.

When completed, I-69 in Texas will run from the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo to Texarkana. It has been a long time in the making, with construction dollars arriving slowly from Washington, D.C., over the last two decades. To give some historical perspective, Polk County Judge John P. Thompson was asked to speak at Monday's event. He said he remembers the first meetings for what became the Alliance for I-69 Texas, a group set up in 1994 to build grassroots support for the project. One of the earliest meetings was held at Cotton's Barbeque in Robstown, he said.

"We have made progress. This is a great day. It is a long time coming," Thompson said.

"We have about 20 percent of the route that is at or close to interstate standards. This is an important day in the history of I-69."

Thompson said Robstown residents can be proud that their city is home to the first segment of I-69. He also paid tribute to the Alliance. He said the group stands ready to assist in completion of the project.

"One of the things that has kept us together since 1994 is the same thing that is true today. We have folks from Texarkana to the Mexican border here to celebrate an interstate in Robstown, Texas. We have all been of the opinion that any point along the route that is successful in making the highway an interstate is important to all of us," Thompson said.

TxDOT set up its I-69 Advisory Committee three years ago. The committee has five segment subcommittees responsible for gathering input at the local level. Segment 5 runs from the South Texas border to the Coastal Bend and its chair is San Patricio County Judge Terry Simpson.

Simpson said the segment committees allow the average citizen have a say in where I-69 should go. "No longer is this a bureaucracy. The citizens have ownership in this. We have brought the trucking industry together. We've brought the railroads together," he said. "We have proved that we can come together at the end of the day and do what is best for everybody. This is a celebration of our successes."

Simpson added that I-69 in Texas would never be built in one go because the price tag, $16 billion, was too large. However, he said that by building seven miles here and 70 miles there, "we will eventually get to the end of the road."

State Sen. Juan Hinojosa, who represents Robstown, stressed the importance of I-69 to the South Texas economy. He also praised the cooperation that exists between state, federal and local governments.

"This is another step in the many steps to makes sure we get I-69 built. It is so important for us in the Rio Grande Valley and all of South Texas. This interstate translates into jobs, many, many, jobs. Mexico is our number one trading partner. We have agriculture, and oil and gas. Saving time on the road means saving money," Hinojosa, D-McAllen, told the Guardian. "We will continue to cooperate and use our full influence in Washington, D.C., and in the state Capitol in Austin to bring about the funding necessary to make I-69 a reality."

Many members of the Alliance for I-69 Texas were present for the unveiling of the new interstate signage, including Mission EDC President and CEO Alex Meade, Rio Grande Valley Partnership President and CEO Linda McKenna, Cameron County Bridge
Director Pete Sepulveda, and Port of Harlingen Authority Chairman Alan Johnson.

"This is great for economic development. We need this infrastructure in South Texas. It is going to open many doors," Meade told the Guardian.

Three of the Valley's members on TxDOT's I-69 Advisory Committee were at Monday's signage ceremony: McAllen businessman Joe Phillips, Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza, and Cameron County Commissioner David Garza.

"Today is a first step but an important one. I-69 will only get built if we have regional cooperation and partnership agreements," said David Garza.

"Yes, this is a great start and it has come about thanks to the efforts of a lot of people.
But, we still have hundreds of miles that are not interstate standard. We can celebrate a little bit but we have to continue to work hard. We have a long way to go," said Ramiro Garza.

Brooks County Judge Raul Ramirez told the Guardian he was pleased to be part of an historic occasion. "We have been working on this for such a long time. It is an historic day. I want to give credit to all those who have helped make it happen," he said.

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, said efforts are underway in Washington, D.C., to bypass the traditional criteria for designating an interstate so that I-69 becomes a reality sooner in the Valley. Normally, any new segment of road that is of interstate standard must connect to an existing interstate. Farenthold said he and others are working to change the criteria when it comes to highways along the border.

"I think we are going to see signs going up in the Valley sooner not later. Parts of 77 are up to interstate standards," Farenthold said.

"We have the entire Texas delegation signed on as co-sponsors of legislation that
makes it easier for I-69 signage to go up in the Valley. Because the expressways in the Valley are of interstate quality and connect to an international bridge, we believe that ought to qualify for an interstate designation."

If the Texas delegation is successful with its legislative push, Expressway 83 could be designated as I-69 between Mission and Harlingen, Highway 281 could be designated I-69 between Pharr and Edinburg, and Highway 77 could be designated I-69 between Brownsville and Raymondville.

Farenthold said he has been assured by the House Committee on Transportation that the Texas delegation's language will be included in a major transportation bill, HR 1535. "Hopefully, it will stay there," Farenthold said.