AUSTIN — The Texas Transportation Commission on Thursday gave final approval to designation of an additional 116 miles of freeway in South Texas and Northeast Texas as part of the Interstate 69 system. The Federal Highway Administration approved the four highway sections the week before.
The newly designated interstate sections mean a total of 186 miles of the I-69 route that have been added to the Interstate System in the past two years.
“This is a landmark day in the 20-year effort to make I-69 a reality in Texas,” said John Thompson, Alliance board chairman. “It is the result of a sustained local, state and federal cooperative effort. Community leaders along the I-69 route have relentlessly pursued this goal because they know that moving people and freight efficiently is vital to our economy and our quality of life.”
Transportation Commission action means that for the first time the large population centers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley will be served by the Interstate Highway System. Three Valley highways are now interstates.
U.S. 77 through Cameron and Willacy Counties will be signed as Interstate 69 East. This includes 52 miles of existing freeway starting at the Rio Grande in Brownsville and running north past Raymondville.
The 13 miles of U.S. 281 freeway in Pharr and Edinburg will be signed as Interstate 69 Central, a designation that will eventually extend northward all the way to George West.
The east-west U.S. 83 freeway that connects more than a dozen Valley cities has been designated as Interstate 2. It extends approximately 46 miles from Harlingen to west of Mission. U.S. 83 was not designated by Congress as part of I-69 but the Alliance for I-69 Texas and community leaders have insisted over the years that it should be considered an interstate connector between the legs of Interstate 69.
The Lower Rio Grande Valley interstate highway designations were made possible by the passage of milestone federal legislation championed by the Alliance for I-69 Texas over a period of several years and passed in 2012 as part of MAP-21.
The effort led by Congressmen Blake Farenthold — who represents Wharton County — and Ruben Hinojosa and Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, and co-sponsored by every member of the Texas Delegation along the proposed I-69 route removed from federal law a requirement that completed highway segments must be connected to an existing interstate highway before they could be added to the Interstate Highway System.
The Transportation Commission also designated a five-mile section of U.S. 59 freeway on the southwest side of Texarkana as Interstate 369. The three-digit I-69 spur designation will eventually be given to the entire 115-mile section of U.S. 59 from Texarkana to a point near Tenaha in Shelby County.
This is necessary because the planned national route for Interstate 69 leaves Texas following U.S. 84 near Joaquin and heads northeast into Louisiana and southeast Arkansas.
Interstate 69 in Texas is being developed as a series of incremental upgrades to existing highways following U.S. 59 from Texarkana to Houston, through Wharton County and south to Victoria.
In South Texas there will be three branches of the I-69 System including US 59 leading to Laredo, U.S. 281 south to McAllen, and U.S. 77 from Victoria to Corpus Christi and on to Brownsville.
The first 6.2-mile section of Interstate 69 is on the western edge of Corpus Christi and was signed in 2011. A 35-mile section of the Eastex Freeway north of Houston became I-69 in 2012 and a 28-mile section of Houston’s Southwest Freeway — from Loop 610 to Rosenberg — became I-69 earlier this year.
The 11-mile section of U.S. 59 through downtown Houston is under engineering review by the Texas Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. It is anticipated it will be added to I-69 within the coming year.
TxDOT has programmed a total of $742 million in funded I-69 route projects to be completed over the next few years.