SH 44 west of Corpus Christi is now part of the future I-69 System and US 190 is the backbone of the future I-14 Central Texas Corridor.

Federal Highway Bill Includes New Interstate
Highway Designtions for Texas

 

December 15, 2015

 

The new five-year federal highway bill includes two provisions that will help change the face of Texas in the decades ahead. 

 

The bill adds 73 miles of State Highway 44 in South Texas to the state's border-to-border Interstate 69 System and creates a new Central Texas Corridor and designates it as future Interstate 14.

 

The $305 billion Fixing America's Surface Infrastructure Act (the FAST Act) includes about $225 billion for highway projects around the country through the year 2020.  Congress had not passed a transportation funding bill that lasted longer than two years since 2005 prior to the completion of the new measure, much to the chagrin of transportation advocates across the nation.  

 

SH 44 between Corpus Christi and Freer is now a congressionally designated part of the I-69 Texas System that covers about 1,100 miles starting in Texarkana and winding south through Houston and on to three legs that reach to the Rio Grande and international border crossings at Brownsville, McAllen and Laredo.  The SH 44 section will connect the freeway system in Corpus Christi with I-69 East at Robstown, future I-69 Central at Alice and future I-69 West at Freer.  It will ultimately provide an interstate connection between the busy international port at Laredo and the deepwater port at Corpus Christi which linking all three legs of the I-69 Texas System in South Texas.  Approximately 5.8 miles of SH 44 in the vicinity of Corpus Christi International Airport is already at interstate highway standard.

 

I-69 in Texas is being built as a series of upgrades to existing highways. So far 207 miles have reached interstate standard and have been added to the Interstate Highway System.

 

INTERSTATE 14
The new law sets the stage for incremental development of a 600-mile I-14 corridor that begins in West Texas and generally follows US Highway 190 through Killeen, Belton, Bryan-College Station, Huntsville, Livingston, Woodville and Jasper before terminating on State Highway 63 at the Sabine River.


The Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition has been working for more than a decade in support of Texas highway improvements that will improve access between major U.S. Army installations at Fort Bliss, Fort Hood and Fort Polk and the Texas strategic deployment seaports that support them – the Port of Corpus Christi and the Port of Beaumont.  Improvements to US 190 is the key existing route for the east-west part of this goal.


A stretch of US 190 serving the Fort Hood-Killeen area and extending approximately 25 miles west from Interstate 35 at Belton to Copperas Cove is already at interstate highway standard.  It will be renamed as I-14 and added to the national interstate highway system once a technical review is completed and the new designation is approved by the Federal Highway Administration, the American Association of Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the Texas Transportation Commission.  That process could be completed within the next year.


John Thompson, chairman of the Strategic Highway Coalition, stressed the future importance of a new interstate that will provide a safer, more efficient route across Central Texas while providing much needed connections between I-35 at Belton, I-45 at Huntsville and future I-69 at Livingston.
A feasibility study of upgrading the US 190 corridor prepared for the Texas Department of Transportation and completed in 2012 set the stage for designation of future Interstate 14 by Congress.  It recognized the benefits of a high volume east-west highway that will serve a vast section of Texas between Interstate 20 and Interstate 10.  "By creating a more efficient interstate highway system in the heart of Texas, Interstate  14 will allow the state to attract more economic development and jobs," Thompson said.


He anticipates that to the extent possible the future interstate will consist of upgrades to the existing US 190 roadway and that additional studies will be needed to determine specific local routing alternatives.  US 190 improvements will take place incrementally over time as funding becomes available and traffic demand grows with the state's population and freight traffic, he said.


FEDERAL FUELS TAX

Passage of the FAST Act has started speculation that Congress could  in the next few years give serious consideration to additional funding sources to supplement the federal gasoline tax.  Funding from the fuels tax is expected to provide only about $208 billion of the $302 billion authorized with the rest of the money coming from other sources including $70 billion from the general fund.


The biggest decisions over the next five years are going to be what is the appropriate level of federal transportation funding, and where the revenue will come from.  Federal gasoline and diesel taxes are not considered to be a viable solution alone.  By 2020 they are expected to produce only half of the federal funding necessary to support needed highway investment levels.

 

 Restoring the purchasing power of the gasoline tax lost since the last increase in 1993 would require an increase that would almost double the current level of 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel. By the time the FAST Act expires in 2020, Congress will have transferred more than $140 billion into the HTF since 2008 to support the gasoline tax. Analysts say the current $15 billion per-year revenue gap in the HTF could be covered by a 10-cent-per-gallon hike in the federal gasoline tax, but the $24 billion annual gap expected by fiscal 2020 would require a 20-cent-per-gallon increase.