That was the gist of an I-69 update at City Hall Monday evening, June 23.
Presenting the update, at the request of Refugio County Community Development Foundation executive director Victor Garza, was Judy Hawley, who chairs the State I-69 Corridor Advisory Board and many other statewide transportation boards. Hawley also is a commissioner of the Port of Corpus Christi.
Joining Hawley was Roger Beal, Texas Transportation Department’s advanced project development director, and Christopher Caron, deputy district engineer of the TxDOT Corpus Christi District.
“I can’t imagine a community in this day and age in our environment not wanting to be a part of I-69,” Hawley said.
“It’s a growing thriving sustainable economy, and it behooves you to pull I-69 into your plan,” she added.
“But if you prefer to stay the way you are, which is fine, you can. We’re talking about a 20-, 40-, 60-year growth plan. Long-term planning placed in your lap,” she said.
Hawley and Beal agreed that infrastructure was key to a sustainable economy, and getting involved in I-69 planning would ensure the well being of the community.
“It’s one of the few variables you can control,” Hawley said.
For example, Hawley said $32 billion was going on right now in Corpus Christi, including I-69, I-35, deep water ship channel and other freight routes and sources, including rail.
Other examples of cities that were reluctant but then became involved were given. Those included Laredo, Freer, El Campo, Sinton and Marshall, to name some of the examples.
However, early I-69 segment committees left no consensus where Refugio wanted to be in the process.
“We are looking at a relief route for this community,” Beal said.
Hawley said the best action is to get involved in the I-69 process to plan now for the location and infrastructure.
When the federal dollars become available the work will be done.
“Don’t build it and they won’t come. Wrong. They will come with a vengeance,” Beal said.
Refugio County Judge Rene Mascorro noted it was easy to say get involved when it isn’t TxDOT land.
“The landowners don’t want to give up land that has been in their families for hundreds of years,” Mascorro said.
Garza said an example in Laredo where landowners emerged better off was one large family that gave land for a relief route and claimed the rights of way afterward.
“Now their land around it is valuable real estate,” Garza added.
The term “relief route” really seemed to refer to a bypass exit.
And one such relief route is on the I-69 planning map as a possible solution to Refugio.
That relief route could be close to Refugio, farther east or west of Refugio or completely out of Refugio County. Hence, that is why it is important to become part of the planning process.
Hawley suggested meeting with and getting more information from Corpus Christi District Engineer Lonnie Gregorcyk, who could inform officials who owns the rights of way and what would be the best plan going forward, as well as any financial advice.
Hawley noted that rail already is in place, so “some funding opportunities for buying rights of way” might be available.
And she said the city should seek partnerships with anyone “moving freight” in and out of the city.
For now, the important decision is getting involved.
“Just decide you want to move forward. Solving the problems comes later,” Hawley said.
“I-69 is going to happen whether it goes through, around or outside the county,” Garza said.
Beal suggested to plan relief routes through downtown Refugio.
Ron Nelson said businesses would have to move toward the location of the interstate. So any relief routes would have to be planned close to downtown.
Mascorro said downtown Refugio as it is now would dry up if bypassed.
But Hawley said the logical connection between Houston and Corpus Christi is Refugio, and that would mean if planned well, Refugio could adjust in the years to come and benefit in the long run.
She also advised to make connections with state elected officials, state Rep. Geanie Morrison and state Sen. Glenn Hegar for any possible state funding or other help.