Friday, August 15, 2003

Sixth annual Texas Transportation Summit

Official: I-35, I-69 both needed for NAFTA

August 14, 2003


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2005

IRVING--A long-standing argument between the Metroplex and Houston over whose freeways should be expanded to handle truck traffic from Mexico may end in a draw.

Mary Peters, head of the Federal Highway Administration, said Wednesday that there will be enough gridlock for both metropolitan areas to share. Truck traffic is expected to double in 15 years statewide because of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which encourages trade with Mexico.

"Given the amount of traffic that Texas is going to see, I think it's going to take both I-35 and I-69 to handle it," said Peters, who was in Irving on Wednesday attending the sixth annual Texas Transportation Summit.

Much of the traffic currently moves on Interstate 35, which connects the Mexico- Texas border with Fort Worth-Dallas. Plans to expand I-35 have been stalled for years because of a lack of funding. At the same time, the federal government has been working quickly to design a new Interstate 69 freeway connecting the border to Houston, Shreveport, La., and ultimately Detroit.

"I know we're working very closely on the I-69 corridor because it's more in the developmental stages right now," Peters said.

Along the I-35 corridor , initial plans to expand the four-lane freeway to as many as 12 lanes have changed in recent years, said Michael Behrens, executive director of the Texas Transportation Department.

The state is leaning toward expanding I-35 to six lanes from the Waco area to the Metroplex. In addition, a toll road, possibly with four lanes, would be built parallel to I-35 from San Antonio to Denison. That toll road would hook to one already being built between San Antonio and Austin, with plans to connect it to the Mexico border, Behrens said.

It is expected that long-distance haulers would use the toll roads to save time.

"You would still have three lanes in each direction [on I-35] to take care of local traffic," Behrens said. "With the Trans Texas Corridor , that would take care of [truck traffic], which I would prefer."

Supporters of expanding I-35 say they are concerned about the momentum of the I-69 project, which President Bush chose last year to be "fast-tracked" through the environmental process. It could be ready for final design within two to three years.

The Fluor Corp., which is building the I-35 Austin toll bypass, is also leading a consortium interested in building the toll road all the way to Denison. The state Transportation Department is seeking competitive bids for the project, and a decision on a builder could be made within six months.

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Highland Village, said he will continue to fight for I-35 funding. Burgess has filed a bill to rewrite the nation's funding of "borders and corridors " projects so more money goes to states bordering Mexico. He says he still hopes to get funding for I-35.

Burgess said he wants to learn more about how Gov. Rick Perry's Trans Texas Corridor plan affects the Metroplex's future as a free-trade hub.

"We're all still in the talking stages," Burgess said.

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816

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