Written By: Jennifer Hetzel, Director of Strategic Communications, Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce
Published in the Greater Killeen Business Quarterly 2017 Fort Hood Guide
This article sponsored by Metroplex Health System
The Texas Transportation Commission voted January 26, 2017 to give final approval to designation of 25 miles of us 190 freeway in Bell County as Interstate 14 (i-14). This is the first segment of I-14 to be designated in Texas, and will run jointly with US 190 from the intersection of US 190 and Business US 190 E in Copperas Cove to Interstate 35 in Belton. Signs will go up in the coming months.
State Representative Scott Cosper remarked of this historic event, “I am so proud of the joint efforts between the City of Killeen, Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce, TxDOT regional staff, the Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition and our elected officials at the federal level. Through the combined efforts of many, we were able to bring a long-term initiative to fruition that will not only improve safety and add future capacity to the roadway, but will also have a significant economic development impact on the region.”
The decision to designate this section of I-14 will have far-reaching implications at the local, state and national level. Locally, economic benefits include new business expansion in the Central Texas region, as immediate access to an Interstate highway is a requirement of many investors and business prospects. The presence of an interstate will instantly increase the number of businesses that will consider locating in our community. Existing businesses will also benefit from increased traffic on this corridor.
The State of Texas will benefit from this designation in many ways. With thousands of newcomers arriving in Texas each day, I-14 will help accommodate and increase mobility of the state’s growing population. Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce President John Crutchfield states, “Fort Hood is the largest single-site employer in the state. The Texas Comptroller has calculated that Fort Hood’s annual economic impact on the state is $35 billion. I-14 is more than a highway project, it is a way for the state to support one of the most important military facilities in the nation.”
Local and state benefits alone are a not enough to obtain interstate designation, however. The driving force behind the push for Interstate 14 has always been that this roadway is critical to our nation’s ability to sustain a responsive, modern military. This designation and continued improvement of the high-speed road network will allow for increased power projection capabilities and capacity, and will play a vital role in enhancing the overall military value of Fort Hood to the U.S. Army. Military value is especially critical as we approach the next Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) event.
Major General (Ret.) Ken Cox, Executive Director of the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance, explains, “the major improvements to the road network throughout Central Texas, and now especially with the addition of I-14, are in line with the national intent for a major highway that will support the “Fort to Port” concept and significantly enhance the ability for Fort Hood to move equipment by road to the Ports of Beaumont or Corpus Christi en route to future deployment sites.”
The entire Interstate 14 system, from Ft. Bliss/El Paso in the West to Ft Stewart/ Savannah in the East, will provide a tremendous capability for multiple military installations along the route to facilitate the movement of equipment and personnel to their local ports of embarkation/debarkation.
The process to designate Interstate 14 originated with the Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition (GCSHC), made up of cities, counties, local authorities and economic development organizations in Texas and Louisiana. The organization has been working for more than a decade in support of highway upgrades that will improve access between major U.S. Army installations at Fort Bliss, Fort Hood and Fort Polk and the Texas strategic deployment seaports that support them – the Port of Corpus Christi and the Port of Beaumont.
The Killeen Economic Development Corporation (KEDC) became a member of the I-14/GCSHC fifteen years ago under the leadership of former mayor Allen Cloud. The Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce currently serves as fiscal agent for the Coalition and has served on the board for the past twelve years. Several local leaders serve, or have served, on the board of the I-14/ GCSHC, including Former Killeen Mayor Allen Cloud, Gatesville City Manager Bill Parry, LTG Pete Taylor, Former Killeen City Manager Glenn Morrision, State Representative Scott Cosper, and Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce President John Crutchfield. On the national level, Senators John Cornyn and Congressmen Roger Williams, John Carter and Brian Babin all played a vital role in the project.
The Texas Department of Transportation’s Waco District spent the past year working with the Federal Highway Administration to review elements of the existing highway to confirm they meet required interstate highway design standards. Highway upgrades of this segment have been underway for the past few years and more expansion projects are planned. Leading up to Thursday’s final decision, the I-14 designation was previously approved by the Killeen-Temple Metropolitan Planning Organization, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and the Federal Highway Administration.
John Thompson, former county judge of Polk County and board chairman of the Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition, had high praise for the Transportation Commission’s swift action in making the first section of Interstate 14 a reality. He noted it took only a year to reach that milestone following the congressional designation of the Central Texas Corridor as future I-14 as part of the FAST Act in December 2015.
Killeen Mayor Jose Segarra recognizes that the project required extensive collaboration and emphasizes the importance of this decision for our community. “Many past mayors shared this vision, and I am proud to stand among them as it becomes a reality. The designation of I-14 is truly the road to our city’s future. There are two groups that must receive significant credit for this accomplishment. First, Senator John Cornyn and Congressman Roger Williams introduced the federal legislation necessary to authorize this project from their respective committees in the Senate and House. Congressman John Carter helped gather support for that legislation. The Texas Department of Transportation has made tremendous contributions to this community and region. Those contributions brought us to today. I want to publicly thank these people and organizations for the consummate professionalism they have extended to us locally.”