|Funding needed to complete I-69
|Posted: Thursday, May 24, 2012 9:10 pm
By KEVIN BOWDEN
Bill Revell, the former mayor of Dyersburg
The amount of money it will take to complete I-69 from Michigan to Mexico is staggering — $25 billion.
It is estimated $1.5 billion will be needed to complete the interstate route through West Tennessee.
For Obion County, $230 million to $300 million is needed to complete the route from Fulton to the southern border of the county (loosely following Highway 51 South around Union City, Troy and Obion).
The route of the country’s only unfinished interstate extends from Michigan through Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and to the southern tip of Texas at the Mexico border.
Work on the new multi-billion dollar interstate has been going on for more than 20 years and the project may be at a critical crossroads. The federal government has taken a conflicting position on I-69, on one hand designating the interstate as a “high priority corridor” and a “corridor of national significance” and, then on the other hand, withholding federal funding for the interstate.
That’s a problem for Bill Revell, the former mayor of Dyersburg and the longtime I-69 Coalition vice president. He was the main speaker at the annual meeting of the I-69 West Tennessee Coalition, held in Union City Wednesday.
Revell emceed the meeting, which included an update on progress taking place on the Cates Landing project in Lake County (see related story, Page 1) as well as updates on I-69 from transportation officials representing Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi.
In Kentucky, there are three segments of I-69 that extend through the western end of the state, according to Jim LeFevre of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
“We’ve got really good news from Kentucky,” LeFevre told the more than 40 officials from across the region who turned out for Wednesday’s meeting. “What’s happening in Kentucky is good news.”
He went on to say the parkway system through West Kentucky has officially been designated as the I-69 corridor through the state.
LeFevre said there are about $150 million in road projects, connected to I-69, planned in West Kentucky.
“We think we’re making progress,” he said at the meeting.
Two other key updates were presented by LeFevre — the Kentucky Legislature recently approved a six-year highway plan and he said the cost to upgrade six bridges along the I-69 route through West Kentucky is estimated at $400 million.
Other updates were given on the interstate project through West Tennessee, Arkansas and into Missis-sippi, but the updates were overshadowed by an overriding element of concern that arose during the meeting.
“The uncertainty out there for all of us is federal funding…and it’s not good,” Paducah, Ky., Mayor Bill Paxton said.
In addition to Paxton, others in attendance at the meeting were a large delegation of economic development officials from Dyer and Shelby counties, as well as state Rep. Curtis Halford, Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire, Union City Mayor Terry Hailey, Troy Mayor Jimmie Hart, Hornbeak Vice Mayor Dennis Dozier and Dyer County Mayor Richard Hill. There were also a number of other local elected officials and economic development officials from across the area at the meeting.
Revell, who has been Tennessee’s representative on the I-69 Coalition and the state’s most vocal proponent for the I-69 project, said the new transcontinental interstate will create an estimated 27,000 new jobs once it’s completed.
However, until more federal funding is approved for the interstate project, I-69 remains at a standstill.
“As of right now, the Transportation Bill is in conference committee,” Dale Hendon, who attended the meeting representing Congressman Stephen Fincher, R-Frog Jump, told the group. Hendon relayed a message that the congressman is advocating a transportation bill that represents “a view into the future.”
As Hendon walked away from the podium, Revell conveyed a simple but direct message meant for the congressman, “Try to get us some money on that bill.”
The comment evoked some laughter, but also was indicative of the dilemma facing the I-69 Coalition.
Later in the meeting, Revell shifted the message away from I-69 updates and toward the need to reinvigorate the I-69 Coalition and its mission.
“Our funding is not where it should be,” Revell said.
He said the coalition’s next scheduled meeting is in October and two key issues need to be resolved. Revell said the coalition needs about three to five new members who are dedicated to seeing the interstate completed.
Revell said he is looking for some new ideas to raise funds for the I-69 Coalition, with those funds to be used to lobby at the federal level for the interstate project. An estimated $35,000 from each of the eight states I-69 will pass through is needed by the end of the year, according to Revell.
He went on to explain, with a sense of sadness and frustration, that “some states are pulling out of the coalition.”
“I think you need to get a new board in place with a little more enthusiasm,” Dyersburg attorney John Lannom said.
Revell said the coalition needs to develop a “new strategy” to fund and complete I-69 and get the project back on track.
Among the ideas presented by Revell were:
• A public/private partnership as a method of raising funds
• Establishing toll roads in Tennessee
• Gas tax indexing
• The use of SAFETEA-LU (Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act — A Legacy for Users) funding for I-69.
State Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, was unable to attend Wednesday’s I-69 meeting but did forward remarks that were read by Dyersburg attorney John Lannom. Sanderson, a member of the House Transportation Committee, provided Lannom with more than two pages of written comments supporting the I-69 project.
“In 2000, Congress designated Corridor 18 as a High Priority Corridor of National Significance,” Sanderson wrote. “It also has been described as a ‘North American trade route,’ an ‘international trade route’ and as a ‘NAFTA corridor’.”
“At the completion of I-69 from Michigan to Mexico, this road has the potential to improve economic development in Tennessee, improve system linkage and reduce congestion,” Lannom said as he read Sanderson’s remarks. “Economic growth can be achieved by linking to I-40, I-55, ports, airports, truck terminals and railroads. More metropolitan markets can be reached from Memphis overnight by truck than any other city in the U.S.
“Obviously, the biggest obstacle to completion of I-69 is funding, but at least we have some active projects in Tennessee right now making their way through the process. As a member of House Transportation, I will continue to work to make our transportation system in West Tennessee and all of Tennessee the best it can be.”
As the I-69 Coalition’s annual meeting drew to a close Wednesday, Hailey thanked those in attendance for their support of I-69 and he specifically praised Revell for his hard work on the project.
“He has worked tirelessly on this for a long, long time,” Hailey said.
The group was treated a lunch after the meeting, followed by a bus tour of the Discovery Park of America site and work being done on I-69 around Union City. Published in The Messenger 5.24.12