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Tennessee officials revive portion of I-69 project

Clouds of dust swirling around construction equipment signal a change in state policy, as Tennessee transportation officials revived a portion of the Interstate 69 project intended to connect the region with Canada and Mexico.

Four years ago, officials stopped work on the interstate project because of a lack of federal funding. But now, officials have decided to complete an approximately 45-mile portion of I-69 from the Kentucky line to Dyersburg, Tennessee, The Commercial Appeal (http://memne.ws/2dXXa9F) reported. There it will connect with I-155, a spur crossing the Mississippi River and extending to I-55 near Hayti, Missouri.

However, the remaining portions of the planned I-69 route through West Tennessee, including parts in Lauderdale, Tipton and Shelby counties, will continue in a “held status until there is dedicated federal funding,” said TDOT spokeswoman Nichole Lawrence.

Construction on the interstate resumed in the Union City area this summer after department officials determined “there would be value” in finishing just enough of I-69 to link it to I-55, a major north-south route that runs through Memphis, Lawrence said.

“The long-term goal would be to establish interstate connectivity,” she said.

Often called the “NAFTA Superhighway” because it’s intended to enhance commerce with Canada and Mexico, I-69 was laid out to follow a route from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. Along the way, it would run through West Tennessee, continuing through Northwest Mississippi, southeastern Arkansas and northwestern Louisiana.

Of the total length of the route, only scattered pieces have been built or posted as I-69. They including the portion from Indianapolis northward and segments in Kentucky, in DeSoto and Tunica counties in Mississippi and pieces in Texas. Portions of I-269, a bypass route around Memphis, have been completed in Shelby and Fayette counties in Tennessee, with construction continuing in Marshall and DeSoto counties in Mississippi.

In 2012, after years of planning, right-of-way acquisition and some initial construction, TDOT officials said they were putting the I-69 project on hold until the federal government dedicated more money to it.

Without dedicated federal funds, which generally cover 80 percent to 90 percent of the cost of building an interstate, the state would have to divert federal highway construction dollars from other projects across Tennessee to pay for I-69, they said.

However, Lawrence said the department recently decided it made sense to build the more limited I-69 route in Northwest Tennessee.

In Union City, located 115 miles northeast of Memphis, the $46.3 million segment now under construction covers 2.87 miles from Tenn. 5 around the west side of town to U.S. 51. Slated for completion in October 2019, it’s one of five segments to be built in Obion County encompassing more than 20 miles and costing a total of $205.9 million.

Those segments will extend I-69 from the Kentucky line to south of the town of Troy, where the route will utilize a nearly 25-mile stretch of Highway 51 that needs only minimal upgrades to meet interstate standards.

TDOT’s decision to resume work on I-69 in Northwest Tennessee was greatly welcomed in Union City, a town of 11,000 that was dealt a severe blow five years ago when Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. closed a plant that employed 1,900 workers. Leaders in the area point out that West Tennessee, unlike other parts of the state, currently has no north-south interstate.

“It means a lot for Union City,” Mayor Terry Hailey said. “It really puts us on the interstate.”

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