At this time, Interstate 27 (I-27) is another interstate highway that is contained within one state – in this case the state of Texas. I-27 is located in the Texas Panhandle, an area of high, rolling plains. It connects the cities of Lubbock and Amarillo. I-27’s entire length replaced U.S. Route 87 for through traffic.
Prior to the designation of federal highways (such as U.S. Route 87, or US 87) the road between Lubbock and Amarillo was part of the Puget Sound to Gulf Highway, one of the original state highways defined in 1917. At that time, the portion of the highway between Lubbock and Amarillo was designated State Highway 9 (SH 9). In 1926, it became part of US 385, which became part of US 87 in 1935. In 1939 the SH 9 overlap was dropped when the road was renumbered. Paving the “highway” began in 1929 and was nearly finished by 1940 (only about 8 miles south of the town of Canyon was still unsurfaced until later that decade).
Construction of the Canyon Expressway, a freeway upgrade of US 87/US 60 between Canyon and Amarillo, took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Canyon Expressway had frontage roads along its entire length and its legal speed limit was set at 45 miles per hour. It ended in each city with a “Y” junction – the split of US 60 and US 87 in Canyon, and a split between the two pairs of one-way streets (Taylor and Fillmore streets and Pierce and Buchanan streets) in Amarillo.
US 87 was widened to four lanes from Canyon to Lubbock in the late 1960s. The last section to be widened was between the town of Abernathy and Lubbock. The route was rebuilt as a surface divided highway south of Canyon, but short sections of the highway were built through the towns of New Deal, Abernathy and Hale Center. In addition, interchanges were built at US 70 and State Highway 194 on the Plainview bypass and at State Highway 86 south of the town of Tulia.
There was no Interstate 27 in the original plan for the Interstate Highway System (IHS) when it was laid out in the early 1950s. The I-27 spur from I-40 to Lubbock was authorized as part of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968, which added 1,500 miles to the IHS. U.S. Rep. George H. Mahon, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1935 to 1979 (and chaired the House Appropriations Committee after 1964) was instrumental in securing funding for the road.
The state of Texas officially designated the highway early in 1969; it originally was to run from US 62 near downtown Lubbock to I-40 in Amarillo. However, it was extended south through Lubbock in early 1976. Existing highway sections, including the Canyon Expressway, were absorbed into the new I-27, despite not being built to interstate standards. New construction began in 1975 (from Lubbock north to New Deal), and most of the highway was finished in the 1980s. Two long sections of US 87 were bypassed, and I-27 was completed north of Lubbock by 1988.
At its south end, the new I-27 was connected to an existing upgrade of US 87, built in 1970 to a traffic circle at US 84. US 87’s old route through Lubbock became US 87 Business after I-27 was completed.
The last section of I-27 to be constructed was through Lubbock; this took place in the early 1990s and was completed on September 3, 1992. On that day, a ceremony took place to mark I-27’s completion, as well as the completion (at that time) of the Texas portion of the IHS, which included 3,200 miles of interstate highways within the state’s borders.
Building I-27 cost $453.4 million. Since then, growth has occurred along its length, but particularly on the north side of Lubbock and the southwest side of Amarillo. In Amarillo, I-27 turns eastward and then curves northward to end at Interstate 40.
Potential for extensions
Currently, I-27 is only 124.13 miles long. However, plans have been on the drawing board for more than 20 years to extend I-27 south from Lubbock to an interchange with I-20 in the vicinity of Midland-Odessa. Another plan would extend I-27 even further south, to an interchange with I-10 and a border crossing with Mexico near San Angelo.
The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century was passed by Congress in 1998. It designated I-27 as part of the Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor (also known as High Priority Corridor 38) from Mexico at Laredo to Denver. A feasibility study for the High Priority Corridor was conducted in 2000. At that time, upgrades to US 87 were made rather than building new segments of highway.
As it is envisioned, the Ports-to-Plains Corridor would cross I-20 at Big Spring and Midland and I-10 at Sonora. It would use parts of existing US Highways 287, 385, 87, 277 and 83, as well as Texas State Highways 349 and 158, and Colorado State Highway 71.
The Ports-to-Plains Corridor is also part of the Great Plains International Trade Corridor, which is planned to continue north to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. In addition, the Texas portion of the Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor was a proposed Trans-Texas Corridor. An option in this plan has I-14 ending where I-27 will cross I-20.
In 2015 the Ports-to-Plains Alliance sought a new feasibility study for the southern extension of I-27. The Alliance gained the support of San Angelo’s mayor, city council and the county commission, which referred to the area’s lack of a connection to the IHS and potential economic growth and stability. The San Angelo political bodies endorsed the extension of I-27 on March 19, 2019. This triggered action by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), which recommended a new study of an I-27 extension.
At the time, the projected costs to upgrade the 500-mile Port-to-Plains Corridor south from Lubbock to Laredo was more than $5.2 billion. This included potential cost savings if the segment between Midland-Odessa and San Angelo were linked with the I-14 corridor. I-14 has already been authorized by Congress along US 190 in Texas.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed Texas House Bill 1079, which authorized a comprehensive study to extend I-27 north of Amarillo and south of Lubbock to Laredo on June 10, 2019. The proposed route south of Lubbock would have I-27 run to Lamesa, then split. One route would run toward Midland and the other to Big Spring. “The two routes would then merge near Sterling City, travel through San Angelo and Del Rio, travel near the border until Eagle Pass, turn east to Carrizo Springs, then travel south to Laredo.”
During the last Congress, two Texas representatives (U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar) were the primary sponsors of the Ports-to-Plains Highway Act of 2020. The legislation was not voted on, but was reintroduced in 2021 as H.R. 1608. The bill would expand I-27, as well as designate associated auxiliary routes across parts of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Colorado.
Arrington said, “With a stronger farm bill, a new and improved trade deal with Canada and Mexico, and one of the largest energy basins in the world, establishing a four-lane, federal highway from west Texas through the Heartland is critical to enhancing America’s agricultural and energy dominance.”
Cuellar added, “The I-27 corridor extension will benefit south Texas businesses and strengthen the U.S. economy by establishing new trade routes for the agriculture and energy industries. I am committed to investing in our country’s infrastructure to better facilitate international trade and reap the full economic benefits of the USMCA.”