San Antonio Express News
By Trevor Hawes
Just one day before the start of the 85th Legislature, efforts to improve transportation in West Texas got a small shot in the arm.
Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock filed a bill Monday seeking to direct the Texas Department of Transportation to conduct a feasibility study that would see Interstate 27 extend south of Lubbock to Laredo.
The bill supports the activities of the Ports-to-Plains Alliance, a Lubbock-based organization that seeks the conversion of the congressionally recognized ports-to-plains corridor into interstate-grade highway and designated as I-27.
The project is a long time coming. “The ports-to-plains highway has been talked about for as long as I can remember,” Burrows told the Reporter-Telegram.
I-27 is unique among interstates in that its southern terminus does not connect to another interstate. Now is the right time to pursue a feasibility study to get it connected, Burrows said, because pro-infrastructure president-elect Donald Trump will soon take over as the nation’s executive.
“Ideally, once we have a new president, who called for a large infrastructure package to be delivered from the federal government, I want Texas to be in the best place to potentially highlight this project as one of the opportunities to do infrastructure expansion,” Burrows said.
The question on many minds, however, is where I-27 will go. The bill does not lay out the route. “It would be improper for my bill to tell TxDOT what the route ought to be,” Burrows said. “TxDOT needs to determine the route.”
According to a map provided by Ports-to-Plains, the corridor has one of two options at Lamesa: continue south on U.S. Highway 87 through Big Spring or head into Midland via State Highway 349 and continue south on SH 158. Both options meet at Sterling City.
Burrows said he doesn’t have a preferred route but that he has heard the most talk about going through Big Spring with possibly a spur heading through Midland.
Ports-to-Plains President Michael Reeves said Monday that it’s possible both routes could be designated as I-27.
“When you look at what’s happening with I-69 in East Texas, they have a couple of different stretches designated. Same with I-35; you have I-35 east and west in Fort Worth and Dallas,” he said. “I don’t think it would be unprecedented to have both of those segments designated. But that’s why you have a feasibility study — to let the professionals and engineers look at it.”
What might work in Midland’s favor is the Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance’s push to re-designate the I-14 project’s western terminus. I-14 is the centerpiece of the congressionally approved Gulf Coast Strategic Highway project, known as “Ports to Forts.”
MOTRAN and other organizations support moving I-14’s western terminus from I-10 and U.S. 190 to a point in western Ector County along I-20, then heading south on what is currently SH 158 and U.S. 87 to Brady.
Reeves said having I-27 and I-14 on the same route would be beneficial. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to get two interstates for the price of one. Overlapping them would be a way to stretch that transportation dollar.”
Burrows and Reeves said having I-27 extend completely to Laredo will be important for several reasons, but namely because a large amount of freight transported between the U.S. and Mexico through Laredo along I-35 has created tremendous congestion on that interstate. Having an interstate corridor traveling north-south to the west would serve the entire western United States, particularly fast-growing areas such as Denver.
The potential economic benefits for West Texans can’t be underestimated, Reeves said. He cited a recent TxDOT freight mobility study that determined more than 73 percent of the Texas population and 82 percent of the state’s employment are projected to be located within 5 miles of an interstate by 2040. I-27 could give the whole region a boost, he said.
Burrows offered similar sentiments. “It’s a really good project for West Texas and our industries, including oil and gas. With a new president in place that wants to see new infrastructure come together, I want Texas to be in a position to show I-27 as a great opportunity for that investment.”
The bill is HB 869; to read it, visit www.capitol.state.tx.us.