The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Update on Progress for Interstate 69 Corridor

Posted on January 04, 2012 at 12:27 PM

Transportation and other infrastructure improvements are vital for the Delta’s progress, and in 2011 we made progress on the Interstate 69 Corridor–and we must build on that in 2012.

Late in 2011 a coalition of public officials and business leaders broke ground on the Arkansas portion of I-69, which when completed will improve the transportation system in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Please contact your Members of Congress and urge them to continue progress toward completion of I-69.

The Delta Caucus takes a comprehensive approach to economic development and job creation, including health care, education, broadband expansion, sustainable small business growth and entrepreneurialism, USDA initiatives, renewable energy and “green jobs,” Delta heritage and natural resources tourism, infrastructure improvements, and many other initiatives. Transportation is an important component in this comprehensive strategy.

I-69 is one component of the Delta Development Highway System plan and will create jobs, reduce travel time and fuel consumption, and improve the transportation system from Mexico to Canada when completed. I-69 is one of only six US Dept. of Transportation “Corridors of the Future” in the entire country that have priority status.

The ground-breaking began in November, 2011 on construction of 8.5 miles of grading and structures for the Monticello Bypass from Highway 425 to Highway 278 East. This contract was let in September, 2011 for $13.2 million.

The I-69 portion through Arkansas and Mississippi will ultimately connect Memphis, Tennessee to Shreveport, Louisiana, extending east of the Mississippi River, crossing the river in Desha County and then traversing Drew, Bradley, Calhoun, Ouachita, Union and Columbia counties and then crossing into Louisiana.

When completed, I-69 will be a major transportation corridor linking manufacturing and agricultural centers throughout the country and serving as the major national artery between our increasingly important North-South trading partners in Mexico and Canada. The total length is approximately 2,730 miles with an estimated cost of $28 to $30 billion.

I-69 is projected to be America’s top freight and passenger corridor, creating jobs, reducing travel time and fuel consumption costs, and serving over 23 million people. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that for every $1 billion invested in federal highway projects, approximately 35,000 jobs are created.

Putting people back to work on improvements in roads, bridges and other infrastructure is one of the keys to economic recovery, and greater progress on I-69 will be one dynamic part of the recovery in our region.

The progress on I-69 until now has been far too slow, but that is all the more reason for the regional coalition to persevere and keep working for completion.

We sometimes hear people say that at this rate it will be the next generation who see its completion; and the answers to that attitude are that construction of each section of I-69 is beneficial in creating jobs now and improving the infrastructure over the long term; furthermore, while we know this is a long-term process, we ought to be glad to make progress on a project that will give a brighter economic future to future generations.

Many supporters of I-69 take the realistic but determined view that we must keep completing parts of the I-69 Corridor, section by section, as we did with the stretch between McGehee and Monticello where we broke ground in November.

We should point out that to make the project more manageable, the states and the Federal Highway Administration have divided I-69 into 32 “Sections of Independent Utility” that will function independently even if the rest are not completed. So, it’s not an “all or nothing” project and the completion of each section is a success in its own right.

We have a lengthy list of leaders to thank for this progress, and apologize if we leave anyone out, but we should start with Congressman Mike Ross of Arkansas, who helped secure approximately $72 million in earmarks for I-69, as well as playing a key role in the designation of it as one of only six national “Corridors of the Future.” At the ground-breaking event in Drew County, Rep. Ross said: “They announced I-69 five years before I was born. To break ground on this project now, with funds I helped secure, is one of the highlights of my time representing Arkansas in Congress.”

Joining Rep. Ross at the ground-breaking were Scott Bennett, director of the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD), Madison Murphy, chair of the Arkansas State Highway Commission, John Burkalter of the Arkansas State Highway Commission, Mayor Alan Maxwell of Monticello, Arkansas, and other public officials and private sector leaders.

Congressman Ross is co-chairman of the I-69 Caucus in the US House of Representatives. We want to thank Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and the rest of the Arkansas delegation for their support for I-69, as well as the Congressional delegations of Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky for their support for the corridor. We have more clout in Congress because we have five state delegations working for completion of I-69 and not just one.

Former AHTD Director Dan Flowers, who recently retired, deserves great recognition for his many years of supporting progress on I-69 as well as many other transportation improvements in our region.

Johnnie Bolin, for many years director of the Arkansas Good Roads Transportation Council and now a candidate for the Arkansas Legislature, was one of the southern Arkansas grassroots leaders who worked diligently for many years for I-69. Bolin said “We in Arkansas greatly appreciate Congressman Mike Ross for wisely securing funding for I-69, which will have such a major impact on the transportation system and economy in Arkansas and the entire Delta region.”

Regarding the progress in southern Arkansas, there are many grassroots leaders who contributed to the progress through their hard work for so many years, including Charlotte Schexsnayder, Desha County Judge Mark McElroy, Michael Jones, Ken Shea, Kenny Gober, Melissa Gober, B.B. Hill, Ann Cash, and the Cornerstone Coalition of Ashby, Bradley, Drew, Desha and Chicot counties.

If there are others we have left out here, please advise because we would like to add their names to the posting on the Delta Caucus website at

The Delta Regional Authority included the I-69 Corridor as part of their comprehensive Delta Development Highway System plan, which was developed in collaboration with all eight DRA states’ governors and transportation departments, US DOT, internationally recognized experts on transportation, grassroots leaders, and other federal, state and local officials.

It is tremendously useful to have the DRA Delta Development Highway System plan in hand when we advocate for transportation improvements like I-69, because it is much better to have a well-researched, well thought-out plan than to just go to Congress and the national executive branch and ask for more money. Delta Caucus members met with Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez in November, and he was knowledgeable about and receptive toward our advocacy for the Delta Development Highway System plan in general and I-69 in particular.

We should recognize DRA Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill, Alternate Federal Co-Chairman Mike Marshall, chief of staff Bill Triplett, as well as the former Co-chairman Pete Johnson and former Alternate Co-Chairman Rex Nelson for their longstanding support for I-69.

The I-69 Coalition has done some very effective work in advocating for I-69, and we urge all coalition members to rejuvenate and continue their efforts, building on the ground-breaking in Arkansas and the major opportunity we have with widespread bipartisan support in Congress to helping create jobs and aid the economy by putting people back to work improving our infrastructure. For the present, such improvements

President Clinton’s US Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, now a partner at Patton Boggs in Washington, is a longstanding supporter of I-69 and we appreciate his support on this initiative. Secretary Slater remains an active participant in the activities of the Delta Grassroots Caucus and we are glad to have his support on this and many other issues.

We should also stress that Arkansas is one of only five Delta states that will benefit from the completion of I-69, and we deeply appreciate the collaboration of our colleagues in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky. We have focused on the Arkansas portion in this message because of the recent ground-breaking.

When completed, 15 of America’s top 25 cargo airports will be easily accessible to I-69, 96 rail terminals will be within 150 miles , and the interstate will connect 17 of the nation’s top 25 seaports. I-69 is clearly an international and national transportation artery and not just a regional network.

Thanks so much for all your advocacy for I-69. As we complete more of the independent sections we will benefit in the short term, and the full completion will in the long term benefit future generations. Lee Powell, MDGC (202) 360-6347