AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The future of trade through West Texas achieved some clarity Monday, as local, state and federal leaders released new data on the plan to extend Interstate 27.
Congressman Jodey Arrington, a Republican representing Lubbock, Big Spring and Abilene, and Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Democrat representing Laredo, Mission and a portion of San Antonio, introduced a bill that would designate the proposed route of I-27 as a federal highway.
Right now, I-27 runs from Amarillo to Lubbock. If the proposed extension is approved, trade between the United States, Mexico and Canada has the potential to flourish.
“The western part of Texas from Laredo up to the panhandle does so much for the Lone Star State,” Arrington said. “Agriculture alone is $100 billion to this economy, and I mentioned oil and gas and the rainy day fund and all the revenues that go into infrastructure and education.”
“This project is critical for the entire state,” he said.
While I-27 is already a federal highway, the formal designation for the route where the planned extension would run is a key measure that paves the way for federal funding.
“If we don’t get past the authoirzation of the designation, we can’t ask for money,” Cuellar said. “Authorization designation is step one, money is second step, so before we get to home base, we got to get the first base.”
Last year, state lawmakers approved a study to determine the feasibility of expanding I-27 north into Oklahoma and south to the Texas-Mexico border in Laredo.
According to the Ports-to-Plains Alliance, which is made up of mayors, county judges and community members, the price tag was calculated to approximately $23 billion.
The group’s leaders said the benefit-cost ratio is 2.4-to-1. The group estimated the Gross Domestic Product for Texas— the value of all goods and services in the state, would grow $55.6 billion.
The Ports-to-Plains Alliance leadership said $450 million in roadway safety improvements would lead to a 21% decrease in the crash rate on the roads.
The new data shows expansion could save $3.4 billion in annual travel costs in the I-27 corridor, and $690 million per year in travel cost savings outside the corridor.
“It’s remarkable and the numbers blew us away,” Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope said. “There’s work to be done, we’ll keep our head down and keep doing our work.”
In addition to boosting international trade, growing I-27 could also ease congestion along the current trade routes.
“Demographers tell us our state is going to grow in population very significantly over the next several decades,” State Rep Four Price, R-Amarillo, said. “And if you think things are congested now, and we’re dependent on very limited north-south arteries across the state of Texas today, we know that will only increase in intensity as we go forward.”
According to the data provided by the Ports-to-Plains Alliance, the I-27 expansion would immediately grow the Texas GDP by $17.2 billion and create 178,600 construction jobs. It would also add 17,710 long-term employment opportunities in the new I-27 corridor.
“I-35 was really the aorta of the trade corridor,” Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said.
“This I-27 project that we have in mind here will also provide more mobility and connectivity toward the west which was lacking for years and years,” Saenz said.
The study itself has not been completed and is in the editing phase, meaning that some of the wording might change but some of the numbers were ready to be shared. The Ports-to-Plains Alliance must submit its paperwork to the Texas Department of Transportation by the end of October. TxDOT has until the end of the year to submit its report to the Texas Legislature.