A major step in the completion of Interstate 69 is underway after state officials this week broke ground on a flyover route at U.S. 59 and Loop 224.

State Sen. Robert Nichols summed it up best with a simple remark during the pomp and circumstance Thursday.

“It’s a great day for Nacogdoches,” he said.

Indeed it is. The groundbreaking and the days following it are of course a time of celebration and anxious thoughts of increased traffic congestion. It’s also time to get to work — not just on the road but also behind the scenes.

Interstate 69’s impending arrival will be the biggest boon to the local economy since Stephen F. Austin State University arrived nearly 100 years ago. How big that impact will be depends on our community and its leaders.

“There are so many companies that will not even consider relocating or building or investing in communities unless they have close proximity to an interstate, and you’re going to have that,” Nichols said. “That’s going to be a big deal long term, not only for Nacogdoches but East Texas and the region.”

While that’s true, there are many spots in the road along interstates that have remained stagnant due to poor or nonexistent planning.

Primary focus needs to be on what is now the west portion of the loop. That area will eventually become what people think about when they envision Nacogdoches.

“The construction itself will cause some delays,” Mayor Shelley Brophy said. “We will be inconvenienced a little bit. However, I believe the future benefits to businesses and residents will be worth those minor delays.”

It is now up to our community what impression we want to make and how major those future benefits can be. We believe the best impression will be one that makes visitors want to return and spend time in our city.

Proximity to the interstate will be great news for places like the county’s civic and expo center, but the facility is in dire need of a hotel within walking distance. It’ll also be great for Millard’s Crossing, which will be along the route. We expect interstate access to increase the number of attendees at SFA events and the Texas Blueberry Festival.

Travelers coming to those places have likely already plotted out a route through our fair city.

What we need to develop sooner rather than later is a plan to draw interstate drivers into town and showcase what makes Nacogdoches the best city in East Texas. We’ve watched too many times as cities around the nation have struggled to bring people into town from off the freeway.

Take Waco in Central Texas for example. Millions of people pass through on Interstate 35 every year, but far fewer see any of the city beyond a glimpse at 70 miles per hour along the freeway.

Ready or not, here comes I-69. Let’s make sure our community is ready. The sooner we have a plan, the better.

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