San Angelo Mayor Gunter: I-27 Isn’t Happening Anytime Soon
SAN ANGELO, TX — Mayor Brenda Gunter poured cold water on the prospects of a north-south interstate being built through San Angelo this morning in a briefing to the City of San Angelo Development Corporation, or COSA-DC.
Gunter attended the 2017 Ports-to-Plains Alliance convention in Lubbock in September where an update about the I-27 project was presented. The Ports-to-Plains Alliance is a multi-agency grassroots advocacy group for building transportation infrastructure from the Texas-Mexico border through west Texas to Denver and onward to Canada.
Gunter told COSA-DC that getting I-27 built will be a long and challenging road and there are very limited funds available to see the project through as one large, one time infrastructure project. In 2015, TxDOT estimated the cost for building an interstate from Laredo through San Angelo and Lubbock to Denver is $7 billion. COSA-DC board member John Bariou, who also attended the conference, said officials there told him the I-27 expansion is estimated to cost the same amount as building a new aircraft carrier. In 2016, aircraft carrier U.S.S. Gerald R Ford was commissioned. It cost $13 billion.
Gunter said the rural areas along the proposed I-27 route do not have a high enough traffic count to attract lawmakers’ attention. “I-27 isn’t a high priority for them,” she said. For contrast, she mentioned I-69. In Texas, I-69 is a designated interstate roadway that follows the U.S. 59 ground track from Texarkana to Houston, and then all the way to Laredo, Pharr and Brownsville. Gunter said the group promoting I-69 in east Texas has a good strategy, and more population to serve, and more representatives in government.
For I-27, Gunter said, “TxDOT officials did not send us a positive message. The money is just not there.”
Instead of thinking of I-27 as one large, monolithic project, Gunter said San Angelo and the other communities along the proposed I-27 corridor should take it in smaller steps.
Many times, she mentioned the progression of highways from two-lane, to “Super-2” (passing lanes at strategic intervals), to four-lane, then interstate. She mentioned the improvements on U.S. 277 south of San Angelo to “Super-2” as an example.
One of the arguments for I-27 is that it will create a second north-south corridor that will provide relief to the congested I-35. “There aren’t good statistics that make a good case that traffic will shift from I-35 to I-27 either,” Gunter said.
Bariou urged all to think of I-27 within the large scope of providing a national benefit. The interstate highway network was built primarily as an east-west transportation network to connect the coasts for military mobilization, he said. North-south interstates weren’t as necessary because in 1950 when the interstate system was created for defense priorities, Canada and Mexico represented no threat.
With the shifting priorities on border security, however, Bariou mused about attracting the attention of the Department of Defense. To them, $7 to 13 billion is very little compared to state transportation budgets, Bariou suggested.
The east-west Interstate 14 was the recipient of funding earlier this year but the area where the official designation was given was around the large U.S. Army installation of Fort Hood near Killeen.
Bariou agreed with Gunter about thinking of the I-27 corridor as a series of many small actions instead of a large, one-time project. For example, he said the bypass built in Big Spring recently was built to interstate highway standards because several TxDOT regions pooled resources together to help pay for it.
Loop 306 on the east side of San Angelo is almost interstate-ready, TxDOT stated in its 2015 report. TxDOT report suggested routing the future I-27 along Loop 306 of the east side of the city to FM 2105 and U.S. 277 on existing roadway. From there, a new roadway could be built to connect that intersection with U.S. 87 to the west.
Building I-27 in small parts will take a long, long time, though. “Our children and grandchildren are the ones who will see the I-27 reality,” Bariou said.
What should we do in the meantime? Buy land along Loop 306 east of town for your children.