• 1st I-69 Texas Section Gets Final Approval
All the technical hurdles have been cleared and the first Interstate 69 signs will go up on a stretch of South Texas highway in Corpus Christi and Robstown later this year.
Texas Transportation Commission members took action at their October meeting to add the stretch of US 77 roadway to the interstate highway system, allowing the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to label it as the first official piece of Interstate 69 in Texas. I-69 across Texas received federal high-priority route designation more than a decade ago.
The commission’s decision enables TxDOT to add the concurrent designation of I-69 to the 6.2-mile section of US 77 between I-37 and SH 44 in Nueces County. This concurrent designation is possible without additional funding, right of way or construction because the existing highway already meets interstate standards.
Interstate highway signs for this section of I-69 have been ordered and TxDOT plans to have them installed by December.
Alliance for I-69 Texas Chairman John Thompson, county judge of Polk County, noted that the commission action was a huge milestone in the project’s development.
"It’s a visible sign of the progress being made on I-69," Judge Thompson said. "This is the result of the strong partnership between the Alliance for I-69 Texas, TxDOT, the I-69 Segment Committees, the I-69 Advisory Committee and the many elected officials and community leaders along the I-69 route in Texas that have remained committed to and focused on the development of the system."
Phil Wilson, TxDOT’s recently appointed executive director, said, “Access to an interstate is an important driver of economic development activity, so this effort is of particular importance to South Texas communities and businesses,” said Phil Wilson, TxDOT executive director. “It’s not every day that a transportation department gets to add a new interstate to the books, and it’s thanks to the collaborative relationship between TxDOT, local stakeholders and planning groups, and elected officials that we can make this happen.”
In August, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) granted the department’s request to add the 6.2-mile stretch of US 77 to the interstate system, and earlier this month, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Official’s (AASHTO) Special Committee on US Route Numbering approved a TxDOT application requesting authorization to use the I-69 route number.
“Development of I-69 is crucial to the growth and economic development of South Texas,” said Congressman Blake Farenthold whose district runs from Brownsville to Corpus Christi. “The Rio Grande Valley is the largest metropolitan area in the country that does not have access to the interstate highway system. Extending I-69 to the Valley will create jobs, improve safety, and reduce travel times. The upgrade of US 77 is a model for completing I-69.”
In the 1990s, Congress designated sections of US highways 59, 84, 281 and 77—from the Rio Grande Valley to Joaquin on the Sabine River and north to Texarkana—as part of the I-69 High Priority Corridor.
TxDOT has been working for decades to upgrade sections of these existing highways to meet federal interstate standards.
TxDOT's I-69 Advisory Committee and the five segment committees recommended that it be a top priority to add the completed sections to the national interstate system. Under current federal law, completed freeway sections must connect to existing interstates to be eligible for addition to the Interstate Highway System and to get I-69 signage.
A much longer section of US 59 in Montgomery, Harris and Fort Bend counties already at interstate highway standard is expected to be officially added to I-69 next year.
RIO GRANDE VALLEY REACTION
David Garcia, Cameron County deputy administrator and assistant coordinator for the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority (RMA), said being able to erect actual I-69 shields on U.S. 77 is an important sign of progress. "It's monumental as far as the level of work that's been going on for the last 20 years. A lot of people have been involved," he said, explaining that the Alliance for I-69 has been a consistent advocate for the entire congressionally designated I-69 route across Texas. Local officials up and down the route are also participants in TxDOT I-69 Advisory Committee and five segment committees.
The Cameron County RMA has been a strong partner with TxDOT in moving I-69 projects forward on US 77 between Corpus Christi and Brownsville. "We recognize that while some projects are not in Cameron County they are very, very important to the entire South Texas region. At the end of the day they are going to benefit us because we have traffic coming in and out. It is a win-win," he said.