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Lawmakers approve path forward to extend Interstate 27, connect Mexico trade with West Texas

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill directing the Texas Department of Transportation to study the Ports-to-Plains Corridor, a plan that could extend Interstate 27 from Laredo all the way up to the Oklahoma-Texas border.

The bill, HB1079, signed June 10, requires the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to study the feasibility and costs to extend I-27, which currently only connects the Texas cities of Lubbock to Amarillo – about a 120-mile stretch of highway.

By extending I-27, advocates hope to connect parts of West Texas to the trade coming north out of Laredo, while also helping the flow of truck traffic heading north out of Mexico along I-35. The extension from Laredo to Amarillo would add 630 miles to I-27.

Texas State Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), said the I-27 extension project would help to alleviate congestion on I-35.

“It is a long distance from I-35 to any legitimate north-south corridor reaching up to Canada, or to Mexico. We are woefully in need of developing those north-south corridors,” Perry said during a recent hearing in the Texas Legislature.

According to TxDOT, the Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor on I-27 would be a divided highway corridor stretching from Laredo through West Texas to Denver, Colorado. The corridor was designated as a High Priority Corridor in 1998 and “would facilitate the efficient transportation of goods and services from Mexico, through West Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and ultimately Canada and the Pacific Northwest.”

The Ports-to-Plains corridor could:

  • Improve safety
  • Reduce congestion at ports of entry along the Texas-Mexico border
  • Provide alternatives to other congested corridors that run through major metropolitan areas
  • Help to increase trade between the U.S., Mexico and Canada

In 2015, TxDOT estimated the I-27 project would cost around $7 billion, a figure that could likely be much higher now.

John Osborne, the chairman of the Ports-to-Plains Alliance, told Sanangelolive.com, that extending I-27 would be beneficial to trade and traffic congestion. The Lubbock-based Ports-to-Plains Alliance is a grassroots organization that has advocated for extending I-27 all the way to the Texas-Mexico border for the last 20 years.

“The lack of land, or very expensive land, next to Interstate 35 is a showstopper for providing relief to the Interstate 35 corridor by adding more lanes. Its cost is a strong argument for building an additional north-south interstate highway system like an Interstate 27,” Osborne said during the Ports-to-Plains Alliance annual board meeting in November 2018.

Osborne added, “Interstate 35 is infamous for its congestion, and much of that congestion is caused by truck traffic originating and terminating at the land port of Laredo and its sister city Nuevo Laredo across the Texas-Mexico border. Cross-border trade is booming.”

Now that Abbott has signed the bill authorizing the feasibility study, a Ports-to-Plains advisory committee will be set up to study the extension project. The advisory committee will include elected officials, business leaders, as well as representatives from municipalities, counties, metropolitan planning organizations, ports, chambers of commerce and economic development organizations. The advisory committee would meet at least twice each year on a rotational basis in Lubbock and San Angelo.

Each committee will submit a report by June 30, 2020 to the advisory committee providing input for the study conducted by TxDOT, which will also host quarterly public meetings on a rotational basis in Amarillo, Laredo, Lubbock and San Angelo to gather public feedback on improvements or expansions to the Ports-to-Plains Corridor.

No later than January 1, 2021, TxDOT would submit a report on the results of the I-27 study to the governor, according to HB1079.

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is the Cross-Border Freight Market Reporter for FreightWaves.com. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1999. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a reporter and editor. He has worked for newspapers in Florida, Maryland and Texas.

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