Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Houston, we have a new Interstate

Let the double entendres begin!
The first Houston-area piece of a trade corridor — debated for more than a decade and envisioned as one day linking Mexico to Canada — has been officially designated.
 Motorists will soon notice new road signs naming a 35-mile stretch of existing U.S. 59, from the 610 Loop to FM 787 in Cleveland, as part of the new Interstate 69.
With little fanfare, the Texas Transportation Commission recently voted to put up the new signage while keeping the U.S. 59 designation.
I was made aware of last week's TTC decision Monday afternoon, when I received a press release from TxDOT on the subject. However, this particular route designation has actually been in the works for months. The TTC had to first wait on the Houston-Galveston Area Council, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the Federal Highway Administration to sign off on the new designation before they could make it official.

This isn't the only section of US 59 that will receive Interstate Highway status. Perhaps within the next several months, all of US 59 through Houston to Rosenberg will be signed as Interstate 69 (although, as the article states, the existing US 59 designation will be retained). Eventually, more pieces of I-69 will appear as other sections of US 59 (and, between Victoria and Brownsville, US 77) are upgraded to interstate standards. To that end, the TTC recently authorized $150 million for several I-69 upgrade projects throughout its proposed route; another section of I-69 near Corpus Christi was officially designated last fall.

So what does this mean for Houston? In the near term, probably little more than some confusion on the part of motorists, as well as a lot of adolescent jokes about the number "69." In the longer term, however, I-69 will extend all the way from the Rio Grande through Houston and East Texas to Louisiana and Arkansas. From there, the new highway will make its way to Indiana, where I-69 already exists to the Canadian border, and another "NAFTA Superhighway" linking Mexico to Canada will come into being.

This will likely mean more big rig traffic through Houston, as truckers are given an alternative to I-35 for trans-national shipping. But it will also mean that your own drive to the beaches of South Padre or the casinos of Shreveport will be that much quicker.

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