AUSTIN The Texas Transportation Commission took action today to add Interstate 69 to the state highway system, allowing Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials to label the first Texas stretch of the nearly 1,000-mile interstate since I-69 received federal high-priority route designation more than a decade ago.

Today's decision enables TxDOT to add the concurrent designation of I-69 to a 6.2-mile section of US 77 between I-37 and SH 44 in Nueces County. This concurrent designation is possible without additional funding, right-of-way or construction because the existing highway already meets interstate standards.

"Access to an interstate is an important driver of economic development activity, so this effort is of particular importance to South Texas communities and businesses," said Phil Wilson, TxDOT executive director. "It's not every day that a transportation department gets to add a new interstate to the books, and it's thanks to the collaborative relationship between TxDOT, local stakeholders, planning groups, and elected officials that we can make this happen."

In August, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) granted the department's request to add the 6.2-mile stretch of US 77 to the interstate system, and earlier this month, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Official's (AASHTO) Special Committee on US Route Numbering approved a TxDOT application requesting authorization to use the I-69 route number. The first I-69 sign will go up in early December at the intersection of I-69/US 77 and SH 44 in Robstown.

"Development of I-69 is crucial to the growth and economic development of South Texas," said Congressman Blake Farenthold (R-Texas). "The Rio Grande Valley is the largest metropolitan area in the country that does not have access to the interstate highway system. Extending I-69 to the Valley will create jobs, improve safety, and reduce travel times. The upgrade of US 77 is a model for completing I-69."

Alliance for I-69 Texas Chairman Judge John Thompson noted that today's Commission action was a huge milestone in the project's development.

"It's a visible sign of the progress being made on I-69," Judge Thompson said. "This is the result of the strong partnership between the Alliance for I-69 Texas, TxDOT, the I-69 Segment Committees, the I-69 Advisory Committee and the many elected officials and community leaders along the I-69 route in Texas that have remained committed to and focused on the development of the system."

In the 1990s, Congress designated sections of US highways 59, 84, 281 and 77-from the Rio Grande Valley to Joaquin and Texarkana-as part of the I-69 High Priority Corridor. In 2008, TxDOT began upgrading the existing system along this route to meet federal interstate standards. Two years ago, the I-69 Advisory Committee and the five segment committees recommended that it be a top priority to add the completed sections to the national interstate system. Under current federal law, completed freeway sections must connect to existing interstates to be eligible for addition to the Interstate Highway System and to get I-69 signage.

TxDOT is also asking the FHWA for approval to add completed sections of US 59 in the Houston metropolitan area to the Interstate Highway System as I-69.