What’s in a name? When it comes to highways, economic development officials say a name can mean a lot.

When showing company executives a map of Victoria, Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economic Development Corporation, said the first thing they ask is, “How do you get there?”

“People who are from places other than Texas see interstates as the primary way to travel,” Fowler said. “They don’t understand the large highway system we have in Texas until they see Highway 59.”

A red-and-blue, shield-shaped placard denoting an interstate on a map can make a huge difference when trying to attract businesses, Fowler said.

But a quirk in the law, said Victoria County Judge Ben Zeller, prevents the interstate-standard highway in Victoria County from receiving the placard until it intersects with an existing section of interstate.

To change the law, Zeller, a member of the I-69 Alliance, visited in Washington, D.C., in mid-September to lobby Senator John Cornyn, Congressman Michael Cloud and other officials.

The goal of the state alliance is to push for funding and for completion of Texas’ 1,000 miles of I-69. In Victoria County, about three miles of highway between U.S. 87 and Loop 463 already meet interstate standards. An additional 4½ miles have received funding to be upgraded to meet the standards.

Changing the law to allow noncontiguous interstate-standard highway segments to receive the placard would require an act of Congress, which could take years. Zeller said it beats the alternative: The deadline to connect interstate-standard highway sections isn’t until 2037.

Last year, Zeller lobbied congressmen for the same change with no success. He’s hoping this year will be different.

Following the meeting, Cloud posted on Facebook about his interest in the I-69 project.

“Many of us have seen it under construction for years,” Cloud said in the post. “Members of the I-69 coalition that I met with this week – including Victoria County Judge Ben Zeller – stressed the importance of getting the work done so that we can finally see those I-69 signs along the highway!”

The completed interstate highway, which originated with the congressional passage of Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, will extend across eight states from Michigan to Texas, connecting Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Although decisions on construction priorities and routes are made at the state level, Cloud said in a statement that he’ll continue to look for ways to streamline the slow-moving project.

“This interstate has been authorized for nearly 30 years, but the I-69 corridor is nowhere near completion,” Cloud said in the statement. “I will also continue to work with Rep. (Henry) Cuellar (D-Laredo), the Texas Department of Transportation and other local officials in the coming months to ensure that the next bill will better account for Texas’ transportation needs.”

Morgan O'Hanlon is the business and agriculture reporter for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6328, mohanlon@vicad.com or on Twitter @mcohanlon.

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