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January 30, 2015

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New Interstate 11 eyed to link Phoenix, Las Vegas

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This Nevada Department of Transportation graphic shows the route of the proposed Boulder City Bypass. If U.S. 93 is designated an interstate between Las Vegas and Phoenix, the bypass route would become part of the interstate, officials say.

It may not be a reality for many years, if ever. But the idea of building a new interstate highway to span some of the West's wide open spaces appears to be gaining some traction, at least in the region.

Interstate 11, a designation suggested by supporters of the proposed new route, would link the Phoenix area in south-central Arizona with Las Vegas in southern Nevada.

And more ambitiously, it could extend southward to the Arizona U.S.-Mexico border and north through Nevada into Oregon to connect with existing routes to Portland and Seattle.

Much of it would involve improvements to existing highways such as U.S. Highway 93 between Kingman, Ariz. and Las Vegas, but significant new construction also would be required.

The idea has been battered around for years but recently is drawing more interest, particularly in Arizona and Nevada.

It's being touted as an economic development tool and a way to help cope with the possibility of additional truck and rail traffic that would be funneled onto U.S. routes from a proposed new Pacific Ocean port, Punta Colonet, in northwest Mexico.

But even if Punta Colonet isn't built, there's still a need for I-11 because existing highways are already congested, said Bob Hazlett, a planning engineer for the Maricopa Association of Governments, an Arizona planning entity for Phoenix-area local governments.

"We think it's needed with or without Punta Colonet. We just think that Punta Colonet is going to add to the equation," Hazlett said. "If we're not moving commercial vehicles, if we're not moving freight, then we're not creating jobs (and) we're not moving our economy forward."

A Nevada legislative committee recently approved a resolution calling for creation of an Interstate 11 from Mexico to Canada, including portions in Nevada that would incorporate portions of existing U.S. Highways 93 and 95.

The new route could help Nevada become a distribution and manufacturing hub for the West, the resolution said.

Meanwhile, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is talking up the Interstate 11 idea, calling it an "exciting corridor ripe with opportunity."

But the reality is there's no money identified, at least for now, to pay for a project with a pricetag that Hazlett said "absolutely" would be in the billions of dollars.

Federal funding is being eyed but there's also talk of public-private partnerships, such as toll road projects.

Back when the interstate system was designed in the 1950s, its planners "were more interested in getting people to California," not connecting the region's inland cities, Hazlett said.

But there's a need for more capacity because of the dramatic growth of Phoenix and Las Vegas, he said.

"This is a very, very long-term concept," acknowledged John McGee, a top planning official for the Arizona Department of Transportation. "But we believe this ... is worth pursuing."

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  1. We should build a high speed rail line to LA first. How come people like roads over HSR? Do they ;like spending 7 hours to make the 4 hour drive to LA on a weekend?