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"Forts to Ports" Highway Discussed in Bryan

January 21, 2016
Killeen Daily Herald

BRYAN — While it will probably be decades before Texas’ new interstate is completed, dozens of elected officials, transportation experts, landowners and other interested parties from across the state converged in Bryan on Thursday to get a look at the future of Interstate 14.

The congressionally designated I-14 corridor was created last month when the new five-year federal transportation bill was signed into law. The Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition has been pushing for the interstate for years as part of a “Forts to Ports” plan to improve access between Fort Hood, Fort Bliss and the Texas strategic deployment seaports of Corpus Christi and Beaumont.

John Thompson, chairman of the coalition, said Thursday at the group’s annual meeting that only a general route for I-14 has been identified so far, and input from the communities it will connect will be needed to help shape its eventual path.

“The law was written very broadly to give both input from the local area and TxDOT input so that we could try to determine again what is the best place that delivers the most bang for the buck and has a negative effect, if there is, on the least amount of people,” Thompson said.

The I-14 corridor begins in West Texas and generally follows U.S. Highway 190 before ending at State Highway 63 at the Sabine River. It is planned to pass through Killeen, Belton, Bryan-College Station, Huntsville, Livingston, Woodville and Jasper.

The I-14 corridor designation amendment was sponsored in the U.S. Senate by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and it was written and presented in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Brian Babin, R-Woodville, with support from Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi.
plan provides ‘the road network’

Retired Maj. Gen. Kendall Cox, executive director of the Killeen-based Heart of Texas Defense Alliance, told the Herald last month that the Interstate 14 plan provides “the road network” needed to move military equipment from Fort Hood to the Port of Beaumont for deployment.

The highway “will enhance Fort Hood’s ability” to deploy, making the journey to the port faster, he said in December.

Don Rodman, a communications consultant for the Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition, also told the Herald last month that I-14 will be just one in a system of roads and that the north-south feeders to the Port of Beaumont and Port of Corpus Christi will still need to be approved and improved.

Officials said in December that the new interstate should increase Fort Hood’s military value, which could be a factor in future rounds of base realignments or closures.

Babin, who called into the Thursday meeting, said he thinks the project is exactly what President Dwight Eisenhower had in mind when he pioneered the interstate system more than 60 years ago.

I-14 will connect some of the most important military facilities in the southern United States, contributing to national security, Babin said.
“This authorization from Congress is just the first step in a long process to turn this interstate from words on paper into an actual real project,” Babin said.

The signing of the federal transportation bill gives the legal authorization to designate the first stretch of I-14 — a 25-mile stretch of U.S. 190 serving the Fort Hood-Killeen area.

But Marc Williams, interim deputy executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, said that while the 25-mile section of U.S. 190 from Copperas Cove to Interstate 35 is consistent with interstate standards, reaching interstate designation isn’t something that happens overnight.

A study needs to be submitted and approved by several entities before signs can be put up, he said.

The designation of that portion could happen within a year, and the remainder of the corridor will be tackled once environmental and route studies are completed.

The rest of interstate will be pieced together from existing roads as segments are brought up to interstate standards.

Gary Bushell, consultant for the Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition, said about $1.35 billion worth of projects along the corridor have been funded, but it will be important to identify and prioritize the many unfunded projects that will be needed to complete the interstate.

Bushell said one of the next steps will be to look into appointing individuals to serve on “segment committees” to meet with district engineers and help identify routes that will make the most sense locally for each city I-14 will pass through.

Additional west texas route discussed
One idea that has been floated is adding an additional West Texas route branching off from Brady through San Angelo to Midland, which could give oil and gas activity access to the ports.

Daniel Valenzuela, city manager for the city of San Angelo, said there’s no highway connectivity for the oil and gas industry, and San Angelo is supportive of the additional route. McCulloch County Judge Danny Neal also expressed interest in the West Texas route.

Once I-14 is eventually completed, Bushell said it will create a needed east-to-west connection in a part of the state that’s growing rapidly — there are several hundred miles between Interstate 20 to the north and Interstate 10 to the south.

“In terms of evacuation and for connectivity in the state of Texas, this will be a very important several hundred miles of interstate,” Bushell said.