Tennessee I-69 Construction Once Again Underway
After several years of dormancy due to a lack of federal funding, there are again signs of life for Tennessee's portion of the ambitious Interstate 69 project that will ultimately connect Canada and Mexico. Construction is underway on a segment of I-69 between the Kentucky state line and the city of Dyersburg - one of three planned Tennessee segments of the interstate which will run through the state's westernmost counties. When completed, I-69's Tennessee's total mileage will be approximately 185 miles, including the 40-mile I-269 loop around Memphis.
In 2012, officials stopped work on the interstate project due to budget issues, but in 2016 the decision was made to complete the approximately 45-mile portion, which is designated Segment of Independent Utility 7 (SIU 7). As Nichole Lawrence, Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Region 4 Community Relations Officer, explains, "Construction resumed in the Union City area in 2016, after department officials determined there would be value in finishing just enough of I-69 to link it to I-155 in Dyersburg.
Construction of SIU 7 is from the Kentucky state line to just east of Dyersburg. SIU 7 includes five new construction projects (one of which is completed except for paving, and another is underway) and 29 miles of upgrades to SR 3 (U.S. 51) to interstate standards. Starting at the connection to I-155 in Dyersburg, there will be a section of SR 3 (U.S. 51) that will be upgraded to interstate standards, then two new construction projects will form an eastern bypass around Troy, Tennessee, which will connect to three new construction projects around the northwestern side of Union City, Tennessee. Northeast of Union City, there is an additional section of SR 3 (U.S. 51) that will need to be upgraded to near Fulton, Kentucky. At the connection with Kentucky I-69 there is a new construction project, which is currently in the NEPA process.
The first construction contract was let for SIU 7 in October 2009; the bid for this 4.3-mile section of the Union City Bypass was awarded to Ford Construction Company of Dyersburg for $33 million. Construction on this portion began in the spring of 2010 and was completed in the summer of 2012. TDOT awarded a construction contract for the southern leg of the Union City Bypass in March 2016, and work began in June. Ford Construction is again the contractor; the design consultant for this project is Atkins North America, Inc.
According to Jane Jones, TDOT Region 4 Director of Project Development, the total cost estimate for SIU 7 completion is approximately $337.5 million. She reports further, "The section of the projects which will connect I-69 norther of Union City to near Fulton is currently under NEPA evaluation, and does not have a chosen alignment at this time - alternatives are still being studied. The preliminary estimate for this section is $50.4 million."
At present, Jones adds, funding has not been allocated for letting contracts for the other two SIU 7 sections that will make up the Troy Bypass.
A Positive Impact on West Tennessee Communities
The revived construction of I-69 in the northwest counties is particularly good news for the town of Union City; the town of 11,000 has struggled since the closing several years ago of a major manufacturing plant which employed 1,900 people. The lack of a north-south interstate route in this part of the state has been cited frequently by area leaders as a significant challenge to economic growth.
John Ward, TDOT Dyer/Obion Operations Engineer for I-69, comments, "The impact of an interstate in a community brings advantages to businesses in the tourist industry as well as the business community. Distance to the closest interstate facility is a measurement that a lot of hotels, restaurants, trucking firms and businesses use to determine if that location will work for their business model."
Adds Steve Chipman, TDOT Project Manager/Site Development and ROW, "Not only will I-69 help bring in industry, it will also help connect employment routes and industrial facilities, helping cut down commute times for the area's work force."
Average traffic numbers along the planned I-69 route vary as to location, Jones reports. "In urban areas the projected annual average daily traffic projections exceed 25,000. In the rural sections of the proposed interstate the numbers are between 9,650 to 15,700, based on 2012 annual average daily traffic figures."
Remaining Tennessee Segments Still on Hold
Two segments of I-69 in Tennessee remain on hold, awaiting dedicated funding. SIU 8 will run from Dyersburg south to a planned interchange in the town of Millington, just outside Memphis. SIU 9 will extend from Millington through midtown Memphis - utilizing the existing route of Interstate 240 - and ultimately merge with Interstate 55 in Hernando, Mississippi.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation is already working on widening I-55/I-69 between Hernando and the Tennessee state line, adding travel lanes in each direction, reconstructing bridges, and improving traffic flow at interchanges. Additionally, the I-269 beltway around Memphis is now complete.
As to the remaining segments in Tennessee, Jones comments, "The decision was made to not move forward with the purchase of right of way on SIU 8 and parts of SIU 9 due to the need to identify a sustained, dedicated funding source that could help the State of Tennessee bare the financial burden of building an interstate facility. During the early project development phases there had been the availability of earmark money for I-69. That money has been spent on the environmental (NEPA) and preliminary engineering phases of projects in all three segments.
"As it is, we have to do these projects under our current three-year planning process," says Jones. "But adding I-69 would "˜clog' the plan and push out many other needed projects."
Interstate 69 Remains an Important but Long-Term Project
When it comes to the incomplete status of its I-69 segments, Tennessee is certainly not alone among the states through which the route will pass. Of its anticipated length of approximately 1,650 miles, I-69 is really complete only from the Michigan/Canada border to the northeast side of Indianapolis. Chipman gives an overview of the status in other states: "Indiana and Kentucky are working on a bridge segment. In Kentucky, the route basically follows the existing Purchase Parkway, and work is underway on the connection at the Tennessee state line.
"In Mississippi, I-269 is under construction, with additional segments likely to be completed this year. Arkansas is responsible for the bridge crossing over the Mississippi River in southeastern Arkansas. That $1 billion project is still in the planning stages.
"Texas is proceeding at their own pace, with a lot of work going on, and multiple connections at the Mexican border."
When completed, I-69 will connect 16 existing Interstate highways, and link 10 urban areas of more than 50,000 population along its corridor. Within urban areas, development of I-69 could provide the means to upgrade existing Interstate routes, connect major transportation corridors and radial freeways with a new facility, and connect modal and multi-modal terminals to the Interstate highway network.
Even in the interim, Interstate 69 is likely to have significant positive results, says Jones. "As sections of I-69 are completed and opened to traffic they will provide connectivity to routes on the National Highway System within the state and bordering states; this should improve mobility, travel time, and decrease congestion on other routes within Tennessee."