FederalTaxes & SpendingTransportationNew Ports-to-Plains Interstate Through West Texas Designated for Future Development

A future highway from Laredo to Amarillo received official designation in the omnibus spending bill signed into law in March. No appropriations for the project have yet been made.
April 6, 2022
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On March 25, President Biden made the future of Interstate 27 through a large portion of West Texas official. The designation was part of the omnibus spending bill, but no appropriations accompanied the action. 

The highway will run 963 miles from the border at Laredo up through Eagle Pass and Del Rio, then onto San Angelo, Midland and Odessa, Lubbock, and Amarillo before exiting the state into New Mexico.

The legislation was a bipartisan effort sponsored by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28) and Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX-19). It was also originally supported by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), although Cruz voted against the omnibus spending bill in which it was included.

“This designation will make Texas and New Mexico eligible for increased federal funding to complete the I-27 highway expansion project, creating economic growth, jobs, trade opportunities across those two states,” Cuellar said in a press release.

“Establishing a four lane, federal highway for I-27 is a game-changer for our economy and quality of life in West Texas for decades to come and will strengthen our food security and energy independence for the entire country,” Arrington also remarked.

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Mayors along the route also support its development. Brenda Gunter, mayor of San Angelo, commented, “We are seeing a project that will have a significant impact on the Texas economy as well as our national GDP.”

In 2019, the state legislature commissioned a feasibility study by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to evaluate construction of Interstate 27. The report estimates benefits during construction and then during operation. 

Construction benefits will include an estimated 178,000 jobs and a $17.2 billion increase in the gross domestic product (GDP) of Texas. 

Once the highway is constructed and operational, the report estimated it would result in 17,710 new jobs along the corridor and a statewide gain of $55.6 billion in GDP over 20 years of operation. 

The estimates were broken down by industry. Annually, the food and agriculture industry is estimated to account for $80 million in GDP, energy and extraction for $500 million, warehousing and distribution for $450 million, and other industries for $1.27 billion.

When asked when construction is expected to begin, Joe Kiely, vice president of operations for the Ports-to-Plains Alliance, said, “That is the question! The Ports-to-Plains Alliance has begun to work toward obtaining funding to begin the development process.  We are currently looking at the [Fiscal Year] 2023 appropriations bill as an opportunity.”

When the 75-mile per hour interstate is built, it is projected to cost $23.5 billion. That includes pavement, earthwork, bridges, utility relocation, traffic control, frontage roads, and rights-of-way, Kiely explained.

The TxDOT report projects the population in the region to grow by 61 percent in the next 30 years to over 3 million people.

Advantages cited in the report are to relieve congestion on the parallel route along Interstate 35 and provide greater access to international gateways at Del Rio, Eagle Pass, and Laredo.

An issue not addressed by the TxDOT report is the possible increase in drug trafficking or human smuggling from the border area along the new interstate highway corridor.

Kiely said they’ve heard concerns along these lines but “have not seen data to confirm the accuracy of these concerns.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Drug Intelligence Center, “Virtually every interstate and highway in the United States is used by traffickers to transport illicit drugs to and from distribution centers and market areas throughout the country.”

Interstate 35, which extends from the Texas-Mexico border at Laredo to the Great Lakes region, is considered a major north-south corridor. 

Victor Avila, a retired supervisory special agent with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said, “Without a doubt, the new interstate will involve increased drug and human smuggling.” 

He said lawmakers ought to consider additional personnel like Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers to help patrol the highway. He also said the counties along the corridor will likely need to increase their sheriff’s departments.

With Operation Lone Star utilizing DPS troopers at the border, Avila said there are not as many officers to patrol the highways.

He suggested that there are hidden costs. With interdiction of drug and human smugglers and bulk cash heading back to cartels in Mexico, there will be more prosecutions and more jail space required. 

In 2021, 913,000 pounds of drugs were seized at the border. However, as Avila pointed out, agents only catch a small percentage of the drugs coming in while much is missed. 

“It all comes down to better border security,” Avila added.

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.