Interstate 69 expansion to include U.S. 59

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

July 6, 2012 at 2:06 a.m.
Updated July 7, 2012 at 2:07 a.m.

The passage of a $101.3 million Congressional highway bill will pave the way for Interstate 69's expansion into Texas, including the Victoria area, state transportation officials said.

The project routes cargo and passenger traffic from Mexico to Texas' ports and beyond, said Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director Phil Wilson during a news conference Friday at Victoria Preservation, Inc.

"It will keep Texas globally competitive by bringing jobs and mobility," Wilson said.

To transportation and economic leaders, the expansion is crucial to the state, especially in light of the soon-to-be finished Panama Canal expansion in 2014. As such, federal legislation will sign sections of U.S. Highway 59, U.S. 77 and U.S. 281 as I-69 regardless of whether they connect to other interstate highways.

Texas Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin III said Victoria County has $12 million set aside for improvements to frontage roads and ramps along U.S. 59, he said.

The state will cover $9 million and Victoria Metropolitan Planning Organization will cover $3 million, Austin said. It is expected to let to contract in May, and be complete within 18 months.

In addition to port connectivity, Austin said the highway expansion will relieve congestion during hurricane evacuations.

Senator Glenn Hegar said the state needs to partnership with local communities to address the projected growth in population, freight and economic.

"Thank you for continuing to push on these projects, I know we have a very long way to go, but we are making positive steps in this direction," Hegar said.

In Fort Bend and Wharton counties, $6 million was allocated for engineering and environmental work to develop U.S. 59, Wilson said.

In Liberty County, transportation commissioners set aside $5 million to purchase right-of-ways for the highway.

"You see a lot of connection pieces along the I-69 footprint," Wilson said.

In all, the expansion is seeing about $627 million in projects right now, Wilson said.

Former Victoria County Judge Helen Walker served as chairwoman in the infancy of the I-69 Texas Alliance.

With the Livingston County judge and Lufkin mayor, they brought on 33 counties from Texarkana to Laredo to plan the project.

The Texas portion of I-69 represents more than half the overall length of the national interstate, 1,100 miles of the 1,800-mile route, she said.

"It's virtually funded all the way to Texas," Walker said. "There's a huge need in terms of economic growth. Bit by bit, eventually it will make this super highway."

Victoria Economic Development Corp. President Dale Fowler said Victoria County is already experiencing change.

He called it a new era of planning that used citizen planners, such as himself who served on interstate segment committees with mayors, judges, chambers of commerce and citizens with an interest in transportation.

"From my professional capacity, I certainly understand and appreciate the great importance that Interstate 69 will be to the growth of economic activity to this region of Texas," Fowler said.



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