Texas may get a new north-south interstate if Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX-19) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28) are successful in passing their Ports-to-Plains Highway Act of 2020.
The bill would designate a future interstate extension of I-27 starting in Laredo and extending to the Panhandle, with a split at Sterling City to include a route through the Midland-Odessa region, and continuing into New Mexico and Colorado. Funding would come at a later date.
Arrington and Cuellar held a joint virtual press conference on Monday, June 15 to explain the bill that has recently been filed.
Arrington said that “establishing a four-lane, federal highway from West Texas through the Heartland is critical to enhancing America’s agriculture and energy dominance.”
The interstate is aimed at reducing congestion on I-35 and would provide another important trade route through West Texas, he explained.
Laredo is the top inland port in the United States with over $230 billion in trade traversing the border there annually, Mayor Pete Saenz of Laredo pointed out.
Over 14,000 trailers cross the border there daily. With the USMCA, the newly negotiated trade deal with Mexico and Canada takes effect on July 1, trade is likely to increase further.
“I am committed to investing in our country’s infrastructure to better facilitate international trade and reap the full economic benefits of the USMCA,” Cuellar said in a news release.
The highway expansion is projected to increase Texas’ gross domestic product by $55.6 billion in the first 20 years after construction.
Arrington pointed out that even though the western area of the state represents only about 20 percent of the population, it provides virtually all of the food, fuel, and fiber production.
“This corridor is the aorta of [agriculture] and energy, and it is the lifeblood of not only Texas but of rural communities up through middle America. The infrastructure in this region currently represents, relative to the rest of the country, five percent, but 55 percent of the nation’s economic activity,” Arrington added.
The corridor has been designated by Congress as a high priority since 1998. The 86th Texas Legislature commissioned a feasibility study to be carried out and report back in the fall of 2020. So far, the Ports-to-Plains Advisory Committee has held two meetings and has two more scheduled: July 15 in Lubbock and August 20 in San Angelo.
State Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and State Representative Four Price (R-Amarillo) are members of the study committee.
“In Texas, I will say, congestion and commerce are two driving factors that really inspired Chairman Perry and I to work on this measure in the state legislature,” Price said, pointing out that demographers predict Texas’ population will continue to grow.
Speaking about the economic impact of the project, Perry said, “You start totaling up the pros and cons, there aren’t any cons. The economic investment has tremendous returns.”
The project is estimated to cost approximately $23.5 billion. Mayor Dan Pope of Lubbock, who is helping lead the feasibility study group, said that the project is expected to pay for itself within 20 years.
In fact, Joe Kiely with the Ports-to-Plains Alliance explained that studies indicate the interstate will provide benefits of $2.40 for every dollar spent on it. Those benefits include travel time savings, crash reduction savings, and growth in the Texas economy.
Arrington called on Governor Greg Abbott to lend his support to the project. “This project is critical for the entire state and we will need your leadership.”
Cuellar also suggested adding a section between Laredo and Eagle Pass to help with border security issues.
Because Congress is starting the process of reauthorizing the highway bill, Arrington said this was the best time to introduce the legislation. Congress must authorize and designate I-27 as a project for funding. If the highway receives the designation, then the next step is to seek funding for the project through the appropriations process.
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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.