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VOL. 115 | NO. 181 | Thursday, October 25, 2001

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I-69 crawling toward completion

I-69 plans drive slowly toward completion


The Daily News

Interstate 69, often dubbed the North American trade route, will be an interstate eventually extending from the Canadian border to the Mexican border, and is in itself a long road trip.

The road initiative began in 1991 when it was approved by Congress as a high priority corridor extending from Indianapolis to Memphis in legislation called ISTEA or the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991.

In the 10 years since, other mandates have been amended to the legislation. In 1993, Congress decided to extend the road from Memphis to Houston. In 1995, the National Highway System Designation Act further extended the corridor to include the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

More mandates have followed. The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21), signed into law June 9, 1998, again redefined the path extension as Corridor 18 and officially designated it as Interstate 69.

Much of the road legislation is the result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which passed in 1992 making commerce easier across neighboring borders, but also increased traffic demands.

The entire route length will be 1,650 miles and sections are currently open. The road exists from the Michigan/Canada border to the northeast side of Indianapolis. The extension of I-69 to the Texas/Mexico border would cover a distance of 1,250 miles. The extension, Corridor 18, when finished will cross 10 east-west routes and 6 north-south routes.

For Mid-Southerners, the routes local placement is still uncertain.

Tennessee Department of Transportation officials are in the information collection state.

Were in the early phase of this environmental documentation process, said Jerry Moorhead, TDOT transportation manager.

Public meetings were held earlier this month and more are planned for November. The meetings are designed to describe the potential routes footprint and give a time to gain information from residents and officials who might be affected by the new route.

November meetings are from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at Whitehaven High School, 4851 Elvis Presley Blvd. and Frayser High School, 1530 Dellwood Ave.; and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at Arlington Middle School, 5470 Lamb Road and Byhalia High School, 300 State Highway 309S, Byhalia, Miss.

Moorhead said TDOT is still looking at the roads impact in many areas including environmental, traffic and residential.

He said the department is probably 20 percent into the process.

There are two main alternatives to I-69 when it reaches the Memphis area.

The road could either run through Memphis hooking up with Interstate 240 along six miles or bypass Downtown, running east of it along Nonconnah Parkway.

If the road runs through Memphis, Moorhead said the areas of debate are new sections of the route that could fall either on the west side of U.S. Highway 51 or the east side of 51 near Millington.

If I-69 takes the eastern alignment it would run along State Road 385, a section of which is in the works north of Collierville connecting to Paul Barrett Parkway on the north. If the road falls on the 385 route, there are three different directions it could take when it ties into the Mississippi state line.

However, many city officials want I-69 to go through Memphis because that route is more suited to serve the goals of the road.

Carter Gray, Metropolitan Planning Organization coordinator and administrator of regional service with the department of planning and development, said the Downtown route would fulfill the congressional goals of promoting multi-modal transportation and addressing closed military bases.

If you go through town what do you get the Millington air station, Charles Baker Airport, the Port of Memphis, Memphis airport it certainly hits multi-modal, Gray said.

He said it was too early to guess which way the route will go and even ventured to say it might take on both route alternatives.

Theres been talk of having it go both around town and through town, Gray said.

The MPO is responsible for long range and short-range transportation planning and making sure local projects are in accordance with federal requirements.

The I-69 plans have not yet fallen into the Memphis MPO jurisdiction yet, he said.

This stage is the identification of sensitive areas, Gray said.

Charles Boyd, Tennessee for the Federal Highway Administration division administrator, confirmed the road might take both directions.

He said the route east of the city would give an alternative to travelers wanting to bypass Downtown.

While state and federal highway administrations continue to make plans, many people are anxious to see I-69 become a reality.

Mike Starnes, chairman and chief executive officer of trucking company M.S. Carriers, said he is glad to see plans underway because if more roads arent built, there will be traffic jams down the road.

If we dont start building more highway systems and capacity, our interstate system will be gridlocked in 10 years, Starnes said.

We need to be building more interstates and I-69 certainly is critical especially with the trade going on with us and Mexico. It is absolutely critical it gets built.

However, there are organizations thinking the interstate, along future building of other systems, will ultimately devastate the environment.

Jan Lundberg, Alliance for a Paving Moratorium founder, calls the interstate a real tragic and wasteful enterprise.

It is totally in opposition to efficiency in transportation and conserving oil, he said, underlining that rail is eight times more energy efficient than truck distribution.

The roads are already very unsafe with a lot of truck travel on them.

Also, the kind of development taking place (along the interstate) would not be healthy, local development but sprawl development with corporate chain outlets and interchange.

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