Proposed sections of the I-69 Corridor are still in the development stages, as representatives from Sections 4 and 5 encompassing all of South Texas met at the Texas Department of Transportation Office in Alice Friday to prioritize possible future projects.
Funding for a potential I-69 Corridor has yet to materialize, but TxDOT has been moving ahead, meeting with representatives from both private and public entities across the state over the last year to address upgrading local highways, such as 281 and 77, to interstate standards for future Texas transportation needs.
During Friday's meeting, groups were somewhat divided on the issue of whether to focus on Hwy. 77 – which runs from the Houston area through Corpus Christi and Kenedy County into the Valley area – or focus first on Hwy. 281 development, which passes through Alice, connects to traffic coming east to west from Corpus Christi to Laredo and leads on south to McAllen and the border.
Joseph F. Phillip, a member of the Hidalgo County contingent at the meeting, said recent construction in the areas within Hidalgo County are such that Hwy. 281 deserves attention first.
"I think now with all the work that's been done, it's cheaper to do 281, or as cheap as it would be for 77," Phillip said. "What we're thinking, with this progress, we're pretty close."
San Patricio County Judge Terry Simpson said the large number of crossovers along Hwy. 281 would add to the overall costs associated with the projects, and that far fewer exist along Hwy. 77, and those that do, would not impact the local ranchers along Hwy. 77 as much as it would for those along Hwy. 281.
"We can take the crossover issue out," Simpson said. "Highway 77, right now, has the quickest way of getting to interstate standards, for the feds."
Jim Wells County Judge L. Arnoldo Saenz said if Hwy. 77 gets priority, the state can expect an outcry from Hwy. 281 supporters.
"We can't leave out Laredo," Saenz said of development plans. "It (traffic) would come right through Alice."
"All roads go through Alice,” one member of the committee said.
Committee members took a break to take a vote on project prioritizations for a possible I-69 Corridor. Thirty minutes later, the votes were tallied and the meeting resumed. Prior to the vote, members agreed to combine relief routes in George West for Hwy. 59 and Hwy. 281 into one project for consideration. Also consolidated were relief route projects in Freer for Hwy. 59 and Hwy. 44.
From the list of projects before the Segment 4 committee, a "0" prioritization was given to redesignating Hwy. 281 as an interstate from the border to north of McAllen, redesignating Hwy. 77 as an interstate from the border to south of Lyford, and redesignating Hwy. 77 as an interstate from south of Robstown to I-37.
A zero designation means those projects are close enough to be considered ready for interstate designation that they will not be counted as part of the prioritization list of projects, but still require funding in order to be brought up to the designation.
For Segment 4, the projects were ranked 1 to 5. Of highest priority is a Hwy. 77 relief route at Riviera.
Second on the list was the section of Hwy. 77 from south of Lyford to the Willacy/Kenedy County line.
Third was the section of Hwy. 77, from the Willacy/Kenedy County line to south of Riviera.
Fourth and fifth came out as a tie, for a Hwy. 77 relief route at Driscoll and a combined relief route at George West.
For the Segment 5 Committee, on the top of the priority list are the relief routes at Freer on Hwy. 59 and Hwy. 44.
Second and third on the list was a tie, between the Hwy. 44 relief routes for San Diego and Alice. Fourth on the list was a Hwy. 77 relief route at Odem, and fifth was a section of Hwy. 59 from the border to east of Laredo.
“Of course we expect these projects to change and evolve as we go through the process," I-69 Project Manager Marc Williams said. "This is just a snapshot, something I hope we can build off of as we move forward."
Over the next few months, the segment committees will be formulating an update to give to the Texas Transportation Commission for consideration. At the same time, public hearings on the proposed I-69 Corridor program will take place next summer, TxDOT officials said.