• First Section of Interstate 69 Comes to Laredo
June 26, 2014
The Texas Transportation Commission has given final approval to designation of a key 1.4-mile section of freeway in Laredo as part of the Interstate 69 system. The Federal Highway Administration approved the designation on June 17.
The newly designated interstate section means that a total of 188 miles of the I-69 system and connectors have been added to the Interstate Highway System in the past three years. That includes 47 miles of Interstate 2 in the Rio Grande Valley connecting I-69E and I-69C.
The newly designated interstate section begins near the busy World Trade Bridge on the west side of Laredo and extends east to an interchange with Interstate 35. New Interstate 69 signs will go up on this section and on I-35 in the coming months.The Alliance for I-69 Texas was instrumental in working with Laredo community leaders to push for early designation of the new section.
Marc Williams, TxDOT director of planning, pointed out to commissioners that the move means that each end of congressionally designated High Priority 20 – at Laredo and Texarkana – are now part of the Interstate System.
“There is more to go but this shows continued significant progress being made on I-69. As a point of reference, while the system is more than 1,000 miles in length, over 140 miles of the corridor have been designated since November of 2011, and the total amount of funding that has been invested in these projects since that time is over $940 million. So it shows tremendous progress to get to this point,” Williams said.
Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin said that it is well understood that I-69 in Texas can’t be done all at one time and that it will be done “little-by-little” in many individual projects. “This adds an exclamation point at Laredo,” he said while noting that the busy truck crossings at Laredo show why I-69 in Texas should be designated at a high priority freight corridor in coming federal legislation.
The American Association of State Highway Officials committee that approves the numbering of federal highways voted in April to designate the Laredo highway as Interstate 69 West (I-69W). The 69W section will eventually run on US 59 from Laredo to Victoria. In South Texas I69 is being created by updating US 59 (69 West), US 281 (69 Central) and US 77 (69 East).
In February, local, state and federal officials took two steps needed to set the stage for designation of the Laredo freeway section. First came a celebration marking the unveiling of I-69 Future Interstate Corridor signs along Loop 20 which is also known at the Bob Bullock Loop. Then the Texas Transportation Commission redesignated most of Loop 20 as US Highway 59 making it officially eligible to be part of Interstate 69.
The 1991 federal ISTEA highway law designated US Highway 59 from Texarkana to Laredo as part of the national I-69 priority corridor. It did not, however, resolve the question of how I-69 would connect to Interstate 35 and to a major Rio Grande crossing since old US 59 entered Laredo on Saunders St., a busy city arterial street. The new designation means that US 59 now enters Laredo from the east near Casa Blanca Lake then turns north running past Laredo International Airport and Texas A&M International University before crossing under Interstate 35 and ending at the busy World Trade Bridge, a distance of 11 miles.
The 1.4-mile section of Loop 20/US 59 from I-35 to the border crossing was built to interstate highway standard over the past few years and will be signed concurrently as I-69/US 59.
The TxDOT Laredo District has developed a plan for upgrading Loop 20/US 59 to interstate standard from I-35 to the connection with the rural section of US 59. Phase 1 will included completion of the interchange at I-35 and development of expressway main lanes east to International Blvd., a section which includes the recently completed overpass bridges at McPherson Road. Phase 2 will include main lanes and interchanges at Shiloh Road, Del Mar Blvd, University Blvd., Jacaman Blvd. and Airport Drive. None of these projects are currently funded.