Our View: Burrows’ bill brings plan on extending I-27 back into spotlight

Lubbock Avalanche – Journal

More than 15 years ago, a coalition was formed to initiate a movement to extend Interstate 27 beyond its current route from Lubbock to Amarillo. That coalition became known as the Ports to Plains Alliance and it is comprised of civic, government and business people from across West Texas.

The alliance’s goal was, and still is, to extend I-27 from Lubbock to Laredo on the border with Mexico as an effort to enhance trade in the West Texas region, giving the state and nation another connection as a trade route to Mexico. It is also envisioned as a means of alleviating traffic on Interstate 35 in the eastern and central parts of Texas, one of the busiest thoroughfares in the state.

But despite all the efforts of the alliance, there has been little actual movement in achieving that goal, until now. On Monday, state Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock filed a bill in the Texas House of Representatives to direct the Texas Department of Transportation to conduct a feasibility study on extending I-27 along the Ports to Plains route.

We applaud Burrows’ action to address this issue and hope it will reignite the alliance’s efforts to see this project come to fruition. Almost two years ago, then-Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson spearheaded an effort to get TxDOT to conduct the feasibilty study, holding several meetings with that agency’s officials. Robertson was also involved in a series of meetings between West Texas officials and businessmen and TxDOT to get feedback on the interstate expansion. TxDOT agreed to conduct the study. But what is the status of that study today?

Burrows’ bill, if it passes through the Legislature, would direct TxDOT to make good on its promise to complete the study. It is not known how much the study would cost. The fact that the state is facing a budget shortfall this legislative session could complicate the issue as the state may not have the funds to forge ahead on this effort. We hope that will not be the case.

And don’t expect the study to be completed right away. When approached about the study two years ago, TxDOT acknowleged it could take several years to complete. Also, TxDOT spokesman Nick Wade said at the time that a study was conducted in the late 1990s, which determined extension of I-27 would cost more than it would be worth.

But things have changed since then. For one thing, I-35 gets more and more congested. Michael Reeves, executive director of the Ports to Plains Alliance, has pointed out that trade with bordering countries has increased and there has been an uptick in energy activities in West Texas. A second trade route to the border would help not only the state, but would give an economic boost to communities along the proposed I-27 extension.

However, even if the study is conducted in a timely manner and it is determined the project makes financial sense, the actual completion of the trade route could take years, even decades. And, who knows what the cost will be? Two years ago, TxDOT said its initial assessment of the project would cost $5.2 billion. That’s billion with a big B. With costs increasing every year for just about everything, that price tag will most likely be even higher if the project becomes a reality.

It’s never been satisfactory that I-27 only runs from Lubbock to Amarillo. Extending the highway southward would allow it to tie in with interstates 20 and 10, which run mostly east to west, giving Lubbock and West Texas even more access to other cities and trade opportunities. The possible economic benefits could be enormous.

We hope the Legislature sees fit to complete this stuck-in-the-mud feasibility study so we can stop guessing at the price tag and the worthiness of the entire project.

Read more here: http://lubbockonline.com/opinion/2017-01-13/our-view-burrows-bill-brings-plan-extending-i-27-back-spotlight