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  • Writer's pictureTravis Ransom

PAVING THE WAY FOR THE FUTURE

In 2018 I traveled Route 66, the “Mother Road”, from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California. It was a great road trip and if you have never done it, I highly recommend going. It made me realize how unique each community is as our nation sprawls out across the west. It also made me realize just how featureless our interstate landscape has become. Interstate highways are dotted with the same chain restaurants and box stores across the nation. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. However, a unique and local America is still out there if you get off the interstate and look for it.

As I got my kicks on Route 66, I couldn’t help but think of my own community of Cass County. US Highway 59 is designated future Interstate 69. And while Cass County has no interstate currently, we are about equidistant between I-30 to the north and I-20 to the south with I-49 situated just east of us in neighboring Louisiana. This puts us in the crosshairs of future transportation infrastructure development. It is a challenging position to be in. It could mean unparalleled opportunity for economic development or it could mean losing our unique smalltown identity. At worst, it could threaten our existence altogether.


As I drove along sections of Route 66 which were bypassed by the I-40 buildout, I saw the dilapidated former cities and towns of the American west. Ghost towns along the route are now part of the allure of the journey. For decades they have tried to recover from being orphaned by interstate development. If you’ve seen the Disney Movie, Cars, you will fall in love with the charming town of Radiator Springs. But while Cars has a fairytale ending, the reality for most communities that were bypassed is much more bleak. Many towns and communities were either shut out of the planning process or didn’t participate until they were eventually cut off from traffic altogether. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. I don’t want the same fate for Cass County.


Cass County is not an island. We are part of a larger region and much larger state. As such, we must develop regional partnerships that help get Cass County on equal or better footing going forward. Economic development remains a strategic goal of our county. As we consider the economic impact of infrastructure projects that bring traffic through our area, we must ensure our community is adequately represented. Cass County is now “at the table” with three different groups focused on transportation infrastructure. We are a member of the Alliance for I-69, the North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority (NETRMA), and most recently joined as a voting member of TEX-21.


The Alliance for I-69 is a coalition made up of cities, counties, port authorities and community leaders building grassroots support for upgrading the entire Interstate 69 route in Texas. Members of the Alliance for I-69 Texas have conducted a sustained campaign to have existing highways improved to interstate highway standards along US 59. I-69 development across Texas is not just about building a new interstate but about preparing for the state’s future and the demands for mobility that come from an expanding population and expanding commerce and trade. I’m happy to report that Cass County is part of the conversation. More than a dozen of us met in Austin earlier this year to interact with state legislators and hear from Blake Calvert, policy advisor to Gov. Greg Abbott and former TxDOT Legislative Liaison. He stressed the importance of protecting the current revenue streams that are allowing Texas to make significant investments in highways.


The North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority (NETRMA) is an independent government agency approved by the Texas Transportation Commission in October 2004. For many years Cass County did not have representation on the board of this group which was created to accelerate the development of infrastructure projects in North East Texas. Their mission is to implement infrastructure solutions that will enhance the quality of life and the economic environment in our area. NETRMA is governed by a 21-member board of directors that represent each of the member counties including Cass County. As Cass County develops relationships in regional transportation, we will be looking at leveraging those resources to bring improvement projects to our area.


Cass County recently partnered with the cities of Atlanta, Hughes Springs, Linden, and Queen City economic development corporations to join TEX-21 as a voting member. This gives Cass County a seat at the table to stay informed about the direction our state and nation are going as it relates to transportation funding. This is a win for Cass County and the region. We already have allies at TEX-21 as our neighbors to the north, Bowie County and the Ark-Tex Council of Governments (ATCOG) are also members. TEX-21 is short for Transportation Excellence for the 21st Century. The organization’s purpose is to join together cities, counties, private businesses, ports, and transportation entities in a collective, informed voice to the State and Federal Executive and Legislative Policymakers to improve transportation in Texas. This effort includes strategies to increase investment in multi-modal transportation infrastructure, improve the planning and management of our transportation facilities, and increase the awareness of the importance of transportation to all areas of Texas.


If Texas were a country, it would be the 9th largest economy in the world, ahead of Australia, Mexico, Spain and Russia. Companies continue to move to the Lone Star State to tap into the nation’s second-largest civilian workforce of more than 14 million, world-class infrastructure with international access by land, sea and air. Texas is the leading state for GDP, exports, population growth and job creation. Through investments in workforce education, our pro-business reputation, abundant natural resources, and entrepreneurship, I expect growth and prosperity to continue for our state and that includes Cass County. With a seat at the table as an active participant in transportation planning, our community should be able to strike the right balance to maintain our unique identity as we grow and strengthen the economy.

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