MARTIN — The state wants to finish its segment of the I-69 corridor but won’t be able to unless the federal government invests more money in the project, the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Transportation said Thursday.
The interstate will stretch from Mexico to Canada and pass through Union City.
“It needs to be complete,” Commissioner John Schroer told the Martin Rotary Club and a slew of county officials gathered at the University of Tennessee at Martin.
“We’re behind I-69 100 percent, but it needs funding,” he said. “Funding is a difficult issue for us.”
The state has already invested about $200 million for the “road of national significance,” Schroer said. It will cost an estimated $1.5 billion to complete the state’s segment, and could cost as much as $2.5 billion with inflation.
The state already receives $600 million a year from the federal government. If the state used that money to pay for I-69, it wouldn’t have any left for other construction needs.
“There’s no way that I can as a commissioner say that we can spend two years of our construction budget on that section of road in Tennessee,” Schroer said. “I know a lot of people would like to have it done that way, but we need to talk to and need to work with our federal partners to make sure there is dedicated funding.”
Emerging countries like China and India spend billions on new transportation infrastructures as U.S. roads deteriorate from 50 years of use, he said.
“Our national infrastructure is going in the wrong direction,” he said. “The dollars that we’re spending on infrastructure is not what it was before.”
The federal government spends “very little” on new capacity projects, he added, and Interstate 69 is a “perfect example.”
To date, the federal government has given about $200 million for Tennessee’s segment of I-69. About $37 million of that has been spent in Obion County.
Weakley County Mayor Houston Patrick said he appreciated the commissioner’s frankness.
“I wouldn’t give you a dime for the bologna that gives people temporary encouragement,” Patrick said. “I was not too surprised that the funding was not available now. I did appreciate the fact that he reiterated the commitment of TDOT to I-69. I think it will be done.”
On paper, new interstate construction for I-69 covers about 20.2 miles through Obion County. The new interstate will come into Obion County along Highway 51 South from South Fulton. The proposed interstate will continue down Highway 51 until it veers west at Mayberry Road, with the interstate route then turning south as it travels west of Union City all the way to south of Troy. There, the interstate will reconnect with Highway 51 South as it travels through Dyer, Lauderdale, Tipton and Shelby counties as it makes its way into Mississippi on its way to the Mexican border.
Once completed, the I-69 corridor will connect Mexico with Canada and is expected to have a significant economic impact on the communities along its path.
The local section of I-69 is split into five segments. Construction on the interstate is being done one segment at a time. The most visible progress is being made on Section 4 of the interstate, located on the west and north sides of Union City. It is that segment that winds around the Titan Tire plant and extends south over West Main Street.
Editor’s note: Union City Messenger staff reporter Kevin Bowden contributed to the article.