Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"The I-69 the Alliance is promoting your standard interstate highway..."

MEDCO joins I-69 Alliance

April 30, 2008

Marshall News Messenger
Copyright 2008

Following an hour-long presentation by Marshall Mayor Ed Smith, members of the board of directors of the Marshall Economic Development Corp. voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to apply for membership in the Alliance for the I-69 Corridor.

MEDCO will join more than 35 municipalities, counties and other entities — including the city of Marshall and Harrison County — as members of the alliance. MEDCO will become the fourth economic development entity, joining the Cleveland, Greater Fort Bend and Mission corporations as members.

Smith told board members that representation from Northeast Texas is important on the Alliance's board to ensure that this area of the state is not forgotten when Interstate Highway 69 is finally constructed. "It's also very important to MEDCO from an economic development standpoint," he added.

MEDCO board member Bill Marshall agreed.

"I think a viable transportation system is the lifeblood of economic development," Marshall said. "I think we should try this for a year or two and see what kind of influence we have."

Smith, who has been a member of the Alliance board since the city of Marshall signed on in 2002, said current plans for the interstate have it branching just north of Nacogdoches. The major branch, he explained, will cut across the northwestern corner of Louisiana and the southeastern corner of Arkansas en route to Memphis. The second branch continues straight north through Carthage, Marshall and Jefferson to end at I-30 in Texarkana. I-30 connects Texarkana to Little Rock, Ark., and, eventually, Memphis.

"Our concern is, if they build the branch to Louisiana first, then the branch to Texarkana may become an afterthought or not be built," Smith said. "Even if it is built at a later date, it will be extremely hard for us to recapture the trade route."

He said the contingency from NE Texas would like to see the stretch from Nacogdoches to Texarkana built first or, at least, at the same time because they feel the eastward branch "will lure business and commerce to Louisiana and Arkansas that we may never regain."

In addition to Smith, who represents the city on the Alliance board, other members representing NE Texas include James Greer, Harrison County commissioner; Charles Thomas, Carthage EDC; Brenda Samford, Carthage city manager; James Carlow, Bowie County judge; and David Anderson, Panola County judge.

With its $5,000 annual membership, MEDCO also will be granted a voting seat on the board.

Smith pointed out that there is a difference between the I-69 corridor and the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, which includes multiple vehicle lanes for passenger and freight, space for passenger and freight rails, and communication lanes.

"The I-69 the Alliance is promoting your standard interstate highway except with dedicated freight components that separate freight movers from passenger vehicles," he said.

Smith said the need for the interstate can be seen simply by watching the increasing amount of truck traffic on U.S. Highway 59 which, if the Alliance is successful, will be the general route of the new I-69.

"Mexico right now is improving three ports on its western coast and building a superhighway straight through the middle of the country into Texas," he said. "Add to that the expansion of the Panama Canal that will send more ships into Texas ports where freight will be loaded onto trucks and the congestion continues to grow."

While the mayor acknowledged that, ultimately, the Texas Department of Transportation will have the final say-so as to where and when the interstate is built, "We feel that, with a strong voice in the early stages of planning, we can influence their decision."

Smith, whose term on the Marshall city commission ends this month, said he has joined the Alliance as an associate member through his business and will remain active on that board.

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