INTERSTATE PROPOSAL – Construction on I-69 is underway in Obion County. This I-69 Section of Independent Utility (SIU) is represented in orange on the I-69 map as “under construction.”
Construction on Interstate-69 is now under way in the Union City/Obion County area and is expected to be completed next year, according to Bill Revell, Tennessee chairman (and vice-president) of the Interstate-69 Coalition.
“Construction is expected to be completed on the four-mile SIU [Section of Independent Utility] by early summer 2012, with the exception of paving,” says Revell. “The pavement will not be applied to the SIU once it’s completed because other sections need to be built first.”
Shelby County is also currently making construction strides on its future I-69 Corridors.
In Shelby County, I-269, a western, semi-circular subsection of I-69, encompasses former U.S. Highway 385. The future I-269 subsection on the corridor is almost completed between Millington and Collierville. According to Revell, it is expected to be fully constructed by 2013.
The I-69 corridor will run west of U.S. Highway 51 and will be broken into three sections. It will then join Interstate-240, also a Future I-69 Corridor, and will run directly through Memphis, merging into Interstate-55 at Hernando, Mississippi. The route then runs east to Tunica, Mississippi. This particular section of I-69, running from Hernando to Tunica, is complete.
I-240 is currently in the process of acquiring right of way. I-69 construction lettings on I-240 are to begin later this year.
Mississippi held a groundbreaking ceremony June 23 of this year in celebration of beginning construction on one of its five I-269 subsection SIUs.
According to Reanna Mayoral, of the Mississippi Department of Transportation, I-69 construction is in process on Mississippi’s last SIU; construction has begun at U.S. Highway 302, an I-269 subsection on the corridor, that will run from the existing highway to the Mississippi/Tennessee state line.
As for the remaining four Mississippi I-69 SIUs, the environmental documents have been completed, but the state cannot move forward with the construction process because funding is not available at this time.
Revell says recent and expected upcoming budget cuts in funding for I-69 most certainly pose possible construction delays for developing SIUs throughout northwest Tennessee.
The Federal Transportation Funding Bill is expected to cut funding by about 35 percent, which will cut the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s funding for the project by approximately $281 million.
U.S. Senators for Tennessee, Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, both say the federal government is doing as much as it can to fund project efforts. Corker and Alexander say that states included in the project (Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas) should step up and raise money, suggestively proposing to raise gas taxes.
According to Revell, Indiana has used and is continuing to use proceeds from a commercial highway toll both in order to fund its portion of I-69 construction.
“By 2014, Indiana will only have approximately 50 remaining miles left to build from Bloomington to Indianapolis.”
Revell said Indiana and Kentucky have hired a lobbyist in hopes of raising the funds necessary to build a bridge across the Ohio River. He says Kentucky plans to reconstruct its existing western U.S. Highways, Pennyrile Parkway and Purchase Parkway, turning them into sections on the Future I-69 corridor.
“Upgrades for Kentucky’s existing highways will cost about $1 billion,” says Revell.
Dan Flowers, Steering Committee chairman for I-69 says, “Little progress has been made during the past year concerning I-69 construction efforts in Arkansas. However, construction is proceeding around the Monticello area.”
Flowers said Arkansas has hired a group to discuss innovative financing on how to get the project completed.
Mayor Lorenz “Lo” Walker, of Bossier City, Louisiana chairman (and new president) of the I-69 Coalition, says that Louisiana is expected to reach an agreement soon concerning location for its stretch of I-69, according to Revell.
“Texas has not reported any developments,” says Revell.
Sen. Bob Corker has proposed a “cap act” on general spending, which if passed, could leave more money in the federal budget for transportation and infrastructure costs related to future I-69 construction efforts.
Tennessee’s 8th District Congressman Stephen Fincher says that Corker’s “cap act” proposal is a good start, but “we must address the issues that are causing our country to go broke.”
Fincher says “we are at a ‘financial pitfall/crossroads’ in this country and we take our infrastructure for granted.
“The things causing the financial problems in this country are not transportation and infrastructure,” says Fincher.
“We are borrowing from one program to fund another. We must be very careful to address the spending programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Defense. Then our infrastructure and highway problems will cease to exist.”
Revell says if we could just get I-69 completely built, it would have an enormously positive impact on the economy, especially in northwest Tennessee.
“Industries prefer to locate close by major interstates; so once I-69 is fit for transportation use, it is likely that industries will locate within some of our most impoverished counties in northwest Tennessee, providing jobs to the citizens who live in these struggling economic areas.
“I-69 will also be the shortest direct route between Canada and Mexico and will save millions of dollars alone, over time, in fuel consumption and emissions costs.”
Revell also said studies have shown that there is a “benefit to expenditure” ratio of 1 to 1.57 concerning the construction of 1-69, with benefits outweighing expenditures by almost 60 percent.
According to Revell, approximately $28,500 has been collected so far this year to pay lobbyists for their efforts on collecting federal monies to fund I-69 construction efforts in Tennessee.
Revell says the coalition is open to suggestions and/or ideas regarding fundraising for the $24 billion international highway.
Dexter Muller, of the Greater Memphis Chamber, says that a new federal transportation bill is expected to include some language on funding national and international transportation projects such as I-69.
Revell says, “Although there is ‘language’ in the new transportation bill supporting funding efforts, it doesn’t mean that funding will be available.”
It is projected that Tennessee would need to raise $80 million a year for the next ten years in order to raise enough funds to entirely complete its portion of construction on I-69.
Editor’s note: Bessie Cherry is the publicist for the Interstate 69 Coalition.