• It's Official: First I-69 Signs to Go Up in Corpus Christi & Robstown
The first section of Interstate 69 in Texas will soon be a reality.
The Federal Highway Administration has given official approval to adding a 6.2 mile section of US 77 at Corpus Christi to the Interstate Highway System and to signing it as Interstate 69.
The section starts at Interstate 37 in northwest Corpus Christi and extends south to the intersection with State Highway 44 in Robstown. TxDOT completed this piece of US 77 to interstate standard in 2006.
Addition of the section to the Interstate System was supported by members of the Texas Congressional Delegation and the Texas Legislature.
"The Alliance for I-69 Texas has actively supported efforts to begin signing sectiions of I-69 and we see this decision as only the first step in adding completed sections to the Interstate Highway System," said John Thompson, chairman of the Alliance board of directors which is made up of leaders from communities along US 59, US 77 and US 281.
"The signing of portions of I-69 will be a great step in expanding the interstate system to meet the transportation needs of Texas and the nation. I expect a great positive economic impact and improved job market as we link more of South Texas to the Interstate Highway System," said U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold who represents District 27 which stretches from Corpus Christi to Brownsville.
Approval came in an Aug. 1 letter from FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez. FHWA made an official finding that the 6.2-mile segment met the requirements set out in a 1991 federal law for addition of I-69 components to the Interstate Highway System.
John Casey, District Engineer for the TxDOT Corpus Christi District, said the district is ordering the new red, white and blue signs and will have them up as soon as the approval process is complete.
AASHTO COMMITTEE APPROVAL
Two additional steps remain before Texas motorists will see interstate signage posted on this
stretch of highway. The Texas Transportation Commission will authorize submission of an
application to the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO)
Special Committee on Route Numbering to use the I-69 route number. Once that approval is secured, the Commission must vote to add I-69 to the state highway system.
That vote could take place later this year.
John Barton, TxDOT Interim Deputy Executive Director, provided Alliance board members with an update on the process at their August meeting. The AASHTO committee will meet in October. Barton expects no problems with approval, clearing the way for signs to go up before the end of the year.
Barton noted that the initial signs will point motorists toward the Lower Rio Grande Valley. He called this a huge accomplishment that is a credit to the hard work and persistence of I-69 Alliance members past and present.
Ted Houghton, Texas Transportation Commission member who has worked with local communities in pursuing I-69 projects over the years, promised that TxDOT will continue to develop recommendations and plans to bring appropriate sections of US 59, US 77, US 84, US 281 and SH 44 to interstate standard in the years ahead.
In 2008, TxDOT officials committed to developing I-69 by upgrading existing highways wherever possible. TxDOT's I-69 Advisory Committee and five segment committees in 2010 recommended that getting completed sections added to the national Interstate System be a top priority.
US 59 IN HOUSTON AREA
TxDOT is also in the process of requesting that the Federal Highway Administration approve adding completed sections of US 59 in the Houston metropolitan area to the Interstate Highway System as I-69.
The Eastex Freeway (US 59) is at interstate highway standard with full controlled access from downtown Houston to near Splendora in Montgomery County, a total of 38 miles. The Southwest Freeway (US 59) is at interstate standard from downtown Houston to Rosenberg, a total of 35 miles. These I-69 route sections connect to the existing Interstate System at I-10, I-45 and I-610.
Barton said the section north of Loop 610 has already been submitted to FHWA for review and that the highway through Houston and south to Rosenberg should be ready in the next two months. TxDOT has been coordinating the effort with FHWA and he expects quick action. These sections are likely to go to the AASHTO route numbering committee for approval at their semi-annual meeting next May. He expects signs to be up by next summer.
He said that getting the first sections added to the Interstate System and signed is an important milestone that marks the beginning of an era when Texas will focus on filling in the I-69 gaps rather than talking about a large corridor that is yet to be started.
Every member of the U.S. House and U. S. Senate from Texas has signed on to co-sponsor a bill that will authorize Texas to post Interstate 69 signs on portions of US 77, US 59 and US 281 that meet interstate standards but do not yet connect to an existing interstate. Examples of this are the 6.5 miles of interstate standard US 59 freeway at Edna in Jackson County and the 45 miles of US 77 freeway in Cameron and Willacy Counties. Signing non-connecting sections was the standard practice during the 1960s and 1970s when the interstate system was being built. Southern portions of I-35 and I-37 in South Texas were signed for years before they were finally connected to the interstate system at San Antonio.
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.
Congress designated sections US 59, US 281 and US 77 as part of the I-69 High Priority Corridor in the 1990s. When approved, the proposed legislation would amend that law to add 30 miles of US 83 from Harlingen to McAllen to the designated I-69 corridor. This section of US 83 is a freeway that is already at interstate standard.
Significantly, the bill would allow a total of about 80 miles of existing freeway in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to be added to the Interstate System. The Valley is the largest urbanized area in the nation that is more than 100 miles from the nearest interstate highway.
In approving the addition of the US 77 section at Corpus Christi and Robstown, the FHWA notes that this new piece of the Interstate Highway Systems becomes eligible for Interstate Maintenance funds and that its lane miles and vehicle miles traveled will become eligible for inclusion in the Interstate Maintenance funds apportionment formulas.