LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Federal, state and local leaders joined each other Monday for a news conference about the legislation to designate a proposed extension of Interstate 27 as a federal highway. The bill, introduced by Representative Jodey Arrington of Lubbock and Representative Henry Cuellar of Laredo, is deemed the Ports-to-Plains Highway Act of 2020. The Ports-to-Plains Alliance has worked for more than two decades on extending the Interstate.
“This is the next step in order to vie for the resources in the appropriations process to actually get it funded,” Arrington said. “We’re on the outside looking in. We are not a designated highway. There are many designated federal projects, and they’re the ones in the inner circle competing for the funds. We have to get into that winner’s circle in order to compete. This is a critical step. It’s been 20 years in the making. There might be a chance to do more than that in this window, but at a minimum, we need to have that designation so we can compete.”
The Ports-to-Plains federal highway would stretch from Laredo up to New Mexico, Oklahoma and Colorado. It’s expected that the improved transportation route would allow for safer and better trade.
“Every day there’s more than $1.7 billion of trade between the U.S. and Mexico,” Cuellar said. “That equates to more than $1 million of trade between the U.S. and Mexico every single minute. You look at all the trade from Texas, El Paso down to Brownsville, take all their trucks that pass, Laredo by itself will handle 51 percent of all the trade between El Paso down to Brownsville.”
Arrington said the corridor, while 5 percent of the country’s infrastructure, would be 55 percent of the nation’s economic activity. He said with the passage of the USMCA trade agreement, this was the best time to move forward with the project and provide for a bigger economic boost both in trade and the highway project itself, which has an estimated cost of $25.5 billion.
Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope has worked with local leaders to get behind the project and work on a report to introduce to the State of Texas.
“In 20 years, we would recoup 76 percent of the initial investment," Pope said. “It means $640 million a year in GDP gain to the State of Texas, $4.1 billion in travel time savings on an annual basis to the State of Texas. It makes an impact in 20 years of $55.6 billion to the Texas GDP.”
State leaders expect support for the project in the next legislative session based on impact studies.
“It’s a public safety issue,” State Senator Charles Perry said. “Interstate 35 can’t handle much more. As far as economic impact, start totaling up the pros and cons there aren’t any any cons. It’s united. It’s got momentum. In the big scheme of things, that economic investment is tremendous. I’m excited about the prospects. This has been a process for years and years and years but we’re looking forward to push this through this session and going back in 2021, in January, with a full blown plan with the backing of the feds on this designation.”
The federal bill has been referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.