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Ports-to-Plains (Corridor 38)


Two separate bills, enacted after the passage of TEA-21 in 1998, clarified the routing of the Ports-to-Plains Corridor. The 2001 Transportation Department Appropriations Bill authorized the routing of the corridor through Texas. An independent bill related solely to the routing of this high priority corridor was signed into law by the president on October 30, 2002. This second law provided for the precise routing of the Ports-to-Plains Corridor through Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Colorado.

Starting in Laredo, the Ports-to-Plains Corridor follows Interstate 35 from Laredo north to U.S. 83 (Exit 18), then turns north along U.S. 83 to Carrizo Springs. U.S. 83 turns due north, while the Port to Plains continues northwesterly along U.S. 277 via Eagle Pass/Piedras Negras and Del Rio, parallel to the International Border. At Del Rio, the corridor and U.S. 277 turn north toward Sonora (Junction Interstate 10) and San Angelo. At San Angelo, the corridor will turn onto northwesterly U.S. 87 until Lubbock.

Between Sterling City and Lamesa, the Corridor splits: the eastern branch follows U.S. 87, while a western branch follows Texas 158 from Sterling City to Interstate 20 at Midland, then briefly follows westbound Interstate 20 to northbound Texas 349. The western branch follows Texas 349 north from Midland to Lamesa. Between Lubbock and Amarillo, the corridor follows existing Interstate 27, then follows U.S. 287 from Amarillo north to the Oklahoma State Line via Dumas.

A spur of the Ports to Plains Corridor follows U.S. 87 from Dumas northwesterly to Interstate 25 at Raton, New Mexico. The mainline continues north along U.S. 287 via Boise City, then crosses into Colorado. Passing through Springfield, Lamar, Eads, and Kit Carson, the Ports to Plains Corridor merges onto Interstate 70 at Limon. The corridor ends in Denver.

According to the TEA-21 legislation, the routing of the Ports-to-Plains Corridor was much more vague. That legislation from 1998 states that the corridor runs "from the Mexican Border via Interstate 27 to Denver, Colorado." According to an older plan of Texas State Highways, the Ports-to-Plains Corridor is identified as a freeway corridor. That plan shows the route going between Houston and Amarillo, which seems to be via Interstate 10, U.S. 87, and Interstate 27 based on the limited language in TEA-21.

The ISTEA City/State Rural Access Appropriations Section (Item 61) authorized $2.9 million to initiate "feasibility and route studies and preliminary engineering and design for a highway to connect Lubbock with Interstate 10 through Interstate 20." This would infer that Interstate 27, which currently ends just south of the Lubbock beltway, will be extended via U.S. 87 to meet Interstate 20 and then south to San Angelo and Interstate 10.

In addition, item 61 continues "... and [from] Interstate 27 north of Amarillo to the border between Texas and Oklahoma." This implies that a four-lane highway is under development for U.S. 87 and U.S. 287 north of Amarillo; to where this route will go north of the Oklahoma-Texas state line is unknown. There are five likely choices: (1) have Interstate 27 meet the Heartland Expressway Corridor in Colorado, (2) have Interstate 27 head due north to serve the capitals of South and North Dakota, (3) have the four-lane highway end in Boise City, Oklahoma, (4) extend Interstate 27 northwest to Raton, New Mexico, where it would merge with Interstate 25 for the trip to Denver, or (5) not extend Interstate 27 in a northern direction at all.

Interstate 27 would meet both Interstate 40 and the proposed Interstate 32 (improved U.S. 287 between Fort Worth and Amarillo) in Amarillo, making that city a major crossroads. Interstate 27 could continue north from Amarillo at least as far north as Limon, Colorado, via U.S. 287, and perhaps hook up with the Heartland Expressway to serve Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and Rapid City, South Dakota.

In the Roads and Bridges "Interstate 2000" article, the writers proposed an Interstate 32 from Dallas/Fort Worth northwest to Raton, New Mexico via the U.S. 287 expressway (Fort Worth to Amarillo) and U.S. 87 (Amarillo to Raton). Current plans call for U.S. 87 and 287 to be expressway-grade for most of this stretch, but it is unclear if plans call for any part of this highway to become freeway or Interstate standard. U.S. 287 from Fort Worth to Amarillo is not currently part of Ports to Plains, but it is tangentially related to such a route.

For more, visit the official Ports to Plains site.

Feasibility Studies

TxDOT commissioned a study during the early 1990s which examined possible extensions of Interstate 27 south from Lubbock. Three corridors were considered: U.S. 87/TX-349 to Midland, a Sweetwater-San Angelo-Junction corridor connecting to Interstate 10, and another corridor through Big Spring to Interstate 10 at Ozona. The Interstate 20 and Interstate 10 segments of these corridors were studied separately. The study concluded that there was not enough traffic, present or projected, to warrant an extension of the Interstate. Instead, a package of upgrades to U.S. 385, Texas 349, U.S. 87, and U.S. 84 were recommended.

A follow-up study, funded by NHS (1995), the Lubbock to I-10/Amarillo North Route Study of 1996, indicated that an Interstate-grade highway along the between Interstate 10 and Lubbock corridor is not required. However, it recommended improvements to the corridor.

The feasibility study funded by NHS/ISTEA for the entire corridor (officially the "Ports to Plains Corridor Preliminary Feasibility Study of 1998") found that a southern extension of Interstate 27 would not be necessary, based on traffic patterns, community needs, and interstate traffic destinations. However, it recommended a follow-up, detailed study, which is currently underway (2000).

This new study currently being prepared for the Ports-to-Plains Corridor is profiled at Wilbur Smith's Ports to Plains Corridor. It is planned that this fourth study will be the most comprehensive, and it will reflect the entire corridor from Denver to Laredo, and it compare the viability of this corridor when compared with the NAFTA Interstate 69/U.S. 59 and Interstate 35 corridors. Visit the Wilbur Smith Consultants site for the latest on the progress of the 2000 feasibility study.

Ports-to-Plains: Interstate 27 south of Lubbock

Marty Blaise tells me that there are three routes being considered as possible routes for Interstate 27. "They are probably the three highways that are mostly divided highways south of Lubbock. Some of these have very small stretches of freeways (mostly bypasses around towns - usually just one or two overpasses)."

From an m.t.r. discussion dated March 16, 1998 between Patrick L. Humphrey and Jim Williams, the extension of Interstate 27 south from Lubbock has been examined on several occasions. Traffic demand south from Lubbock splits between U.S. 84 to Abilene, U.S. 87 to Big Spring and San Angelo, and U.S. 62 then U.S. 385 to Midland/Odessa. Apparently the conclusion in the past has been that there is insufficient traffic on any of the routes to justify upgrading to Interstate standards. However, those routes are virtually all four-lane divided, and with the 70 mph speed limit, the only disadvantage is that you have to slow down through the towns, like Brownfield, Seminole, and Andrews on U.S. 62/385, Tahoka and Lamesa on U.S. 87, and Post and Snyder on U.S. 84. Wherever Interstate 27 is routed, it would likely come to a terminus nowhere near a national border, or seacoast, and over 100 miles from a perfectly accessible Interstate.

The difficulty with extending Interstate 27 southward is that between Lubbock and Midland, U.S. 385, Texas 349, and U.S. 87 funnel traffic through the corridor. This acts to divide the traffic to the point that running Interstate 27 along or near any of them currently cannot be justified by the traffic they carry. Of course, if Interstate 27 is designated as a NAFTA Route, this may all change ... the future of this segment of the corridor will be clearer once the Wilbur Smith feasibility study is completed.

Interstate 27 between Lubbock and Amarillo

Texas Department of Transportation officials are studying ways to improve Interstate 27, commonly called the Canyon E-Way south of Amarillo, which was built in 1957. According to TxDOT, in Randall County alone, motor vehicle registration has increased from 76,700 to 92,460 in the decade between 1986 and 1996. Total vehicle registration for Potter and Randall counties has increased from nearly 68,000 vehicles in 1957 to nearly 200,000 today.

This increase in traffic, along with the sub-standard on-ramps, merging space, and other deficiencies, has led TxDOT to prepare an upgrade of the road. This upgrade started in 1998. Thanks to Kim Harvey for this information.

Ports-to-Plains: North of Amarillo

With the passage of the October 2002 bill, several improvements to widen and upgrade both branches (U.S. 87 to Raton and U.S. 287 to Limon). Although an Interstate standard freeway may not be the initial improvement along these routes, improvements to expressway standards may begin construction in as early as 2007.

Proposed Laredo-Wichita Falls Turnpike

Another proposal under consideration in Texas is to construct a Laredo-Wichita Falls Turnpike that would connect Laredo with the southern terminus of Interstate 44 in Wichita Falls, remaining west of the metropolitan areas of San Antonio, Austin, Waco, and Dallas-Fort Worth. It would connect Interstate 44 in Wichita Falls with Interstate 35 and Interstate 69 near Laredo. However, it probably will not affect the construction of Interstate 27 since the proposed turnpike corridor is actually closer to Interstate 35 than the proposed Interstate 27.

Page Updated August 18, 2005.