Texas adds miles to I-69, braces for Panama Canal expansion

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 2/7/2013

The Federal Highway Administration has signed off on 28 more miles of Texas highway to be designated as Interstate 69 in the Houston area.

That brings the interstate designation up to about 70 miles in Texas, and officials are hoping for about 200 miles of interstate designation by the end of this year.

Officials said Wednesday that the proximity of I-69 to Texas seaports will be significant given the massive Panama Canal expansion project.

“Texas’ ports are perfectly positioned to make Texas a global gateway that will keep our economy booming for years to come and the connectivity I-69 provides is critical in making that a reality,” said I-69 Segment Committee member and Panama Canal Stakeholder Working Group Chairman Ed Emmett in a Texas Department of Transportation press release.

Texas is piecing together I-69 by using as much existing right of way as possible, including U.S. highways 59, 77, 84 and 281 along with State Highway 44.

The federal government designated I-69 as a “corridor of the future,” which made the corridor a priority and is helping to speed up environmental reviews and project red tape. The Lone Star State currently has $600 million dedicated to developing I-69 projects.

A piecemeal approach to building I-69 using existing right of way was not always the plan. The approach won out over proposals by Gov. Rick Perry and TxDOT to beef up the I-69 corridor with a wide swath of toll roads, railways and utilities. That plan was known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, but it died on the vine due to overwhelming opposition from landowners and highway users, including truckers.

To date, I-69 remains free of tolls.

Even if Texas were to add another 130 miles to I-69 this year as planned, the interstate still has a long way to go before it can connect Mexico, the U.S. and Canada as envisioned. Many pieces of the puzzle are still missing between the Mexican border and the state of Michigan.

Indiana continues to make progress on its share of I-69 south of Indianapolis. Officials there have vowed to complete their sections without the use of tolls.

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