HOUSTON (AP) The Texas Transportation Commission has given the green light to a 35-mi. stretch of U.S. Highway 59 from Houston north to carry the designation as Interstate 69.
The section of road — from Interstate 610 in Houston northeast through Montgomery County to just north of the Montgomery and Liberty County line — is the longest stretch of the much-debated I-69 in the state. It joins a 6-mi. portion near Corpus Christi along U.S. 77 as the only pieces of the newest interstate in Texas. Both were reconstructed in recent years to interstate highway standards.
For some two decades, backers of the project have longed for an interstate highway that traverses the state from the northeast corner, through East Texas and Houston to South Texas and the Mexico border. The route roughly follows U.S. 59 from Texarkana south and southwest for 600 mi. and includes a split in South Texas into the Rio Grande Valley. No one knows when the overall project may be completed.
New road signs with the familiar red, white and blue interstate crest will be going up, marking the newly designated piece of road as U.S. 59 and I-69, Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Mark Cross said July 30.
“We do not anticipate having to go out and fabricate new signs,” Cross said. “We will change the emblems on existing signs and replace with new ones as needed.”
Two more rebuilt segments of U.S. 59 from Houston to Sugar Land and Rosenberg in Fort Bend County are under Federal Highway Administration review to officially become pieces of I-69.
The Transportation Commission also approved a $60 million project to upgrade to interstate standards 10 mi. of U.S. 77 between Corpus Christi and Kingsville in South Texas.
According to the Alliance for I-69 Texas, a coalition of cities, counties and local groups along the route that have advocated for the highway, some 230 mi. of road already are at limited access interstate standards.
“It is a great thing, it’s happening, but it’s just one project at a time,” John Thompson, the Polk County judge and chair of the alliance, said. “The red, white and blue shield is a very powerful tool in the economic development business, not just the practicality of relieving congestion and moving freight.”
Money that was dedicated for the Interstate Highway System expired in the mid-1990s, making new projects more difficult, he said.
“You’ve got to figure out how to piecemeal it,” Thompson said. “Absolutely it’s slow. If we had a big pot of money, it wouldn’t be.”
In the early days of interstate construction, initiated in 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower, there were fewer concerns about environmental impacts and land rights. Government money flowed and pavement was laid down.
“Now we have a very rigid process and not the least of which is trying to figure out how to pay for it,” Thompson said.