Houston drivers will be getting a new freeway through downtown, but without a single improvement in their commute.In other words, people will still call it the Southwest Freeway south of downtown and the Eastex Freeway north of downtown.
The Texas Transportation Commission on Thursday approved dedicating 11 miles of U.S. 59 as Interstate 69, all within Loop 610. The designation closes a gap, making 75 miles of U.S. 59 jointly I-69 in the Houston area.
In metropolitan Houston, however, it is unlikely anyone will notice a difference, or change their habits of what they call the freeway, because the "new" interstate will be dual-branded with U.S. 59.
This process began a few years ago, when the Interstate 69 designation was added to the section of the Eastex Freeway between Loop 610 and Cleveland. Interstate status was bestowed upon the portion of the Southwest Freeway between 610 and Richmond about a year later. The TTC's latest action simply closes the gap. Eventually, I-69 will stretch all the way from Mexico to Canada:
I-69 is a multi-state freeway years in the making, linking the Rio Grande Valley with Port Huron, Mich. Sometimes called the "NAFTA Highway" because it links Mexican and Canadian port cities and many U.S. metro areas, it is far from finished. Arkansas and Louisiana have not started on a single piece of the project, though planning for the interstate began in 1992.So how long before the new signs go up?
Texas made I-69 a priority in the past decade, citing the need to improve the movement of goods through the state. Most of the effort to create I-69 is focused on improving existing federal highways to interstate standards, meaning restricted access and no at-grade intersections among other specifics.
Work along U.S. 59 between County Road 227 in Wharton County and Spur 10 in Fort Bend County, set to start this year, will upgrade the stretch so it can be designated part of I-69, as well.
First, none of the U.S. 59 signs are going away. I-69 are being added, gradually, over the next couple months, said Karen Othon, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation in Houston. Crews are making the signs, and will put them where the current U.S. 59 signs are now.For what it's worth, Google Maps wasted no time in adding the I-69 shields to their maps. And Swamplot commenters wasted no time making juvenile double-entendres.
Othon said the segment officials recently designated is more complicated than others in the area because there are so many signs and references to the highway. Officials estimate the new signs along the 11-mile segment will cost about $100,000.
Larger signs, such as the overhead directional signs common above downtown lanes, won’t be replaced, Othon said. In most cases, an I-69 emblem will just be added.