Sunday, August 22, 1999

I-69 NAFTA Highway Hopes

S. Texas merchants expect windfall from NAFTA Highway Hopes high despite lack of definite I-69 route

Associated Press
August 22, 1999
The Dallas Morning News Copyright 1999

There's still no money and no definite route for the Interstate 69 project, but South Texas merchants already are banking on the proposed windfall from being near the proposed NAFTA Highway. "It's going to be wonderful," said Edinburg resident Cynthia Ramos-Acevedo, who is counting on the interstate to expedite her trips to San Antonio. "It will put Edinburg on the map, and hopefully it will develop into a smaller San Antonio."

The so-called NAFTA superhighway will connect Mexico with Canada, probably increasing industrial and commercial trade, luring tourist travel and providing a faster, more efficient route to and from the Valley.

Rio Grande Valley business leaders and officials have long pointed out that the Valley includes the largest metropolitan areas in the country not connected to the inerstate system. The closest links are about 150 miles away at Laredo and Corpus Christi.

U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, and Lt. Gov. Rick Perry recently visited several sites along the proposed highway, including Edinburg, Harlingen and Robstown. At each spot along U.S. Highway 281 and U.S. Highway 77, they dedicated signs designating parts of the future I-69 route.

"We should have built this interstate 10 years ago," Mr. Gramm said Monday. "The government has an obligation to build infrastructure for economic growth."

The sign unveilings do not mean construction will start anytime soon.

There is no timetable for building, and no federal or state money has been set aside for I-69 projects, said Amadeo Saenz, district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation 's Pharr District, which stretches from Brownsville, Texas, to Zapata, Texas.

Border advocates were disappointed by this year's Texas Legislature session, which failed to fund nearly $1 billion in road projects proposed for the border.

Rather than fund construction for I-69 with one allocation, the current highway will be upgraded piecemeal to interstate standards, Mr. Saenz said.

After the sign unveiling on Tuesday, TxDOT officials said five different route options were still being considered for South Texas.

Most I-69 scenarios involve a two- or three-way split in the highway somewhere near the Coastal Bend, with spurs extending toward different points along the Texas-Mexico border.

A 1998 federal highway bill designated the U.S. 281 corridor in South Texas as the route for an I-69 Central, and U.S. 77 as the corridor for an I-69 East.

Under some scenarios, a third spur would run southwest to Laredo.

Mr. Saenz said the eventual routes of the interstate in South Texas, as well as other parts of the country, have not been finalized.

Copyright 1999 The Dallas Morning News

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