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October 20, 2014

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Las Vegas to Phoenix interstate, seen as a ‘game-changer,’ is step closer to reality

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Justin M. Bowen

Traffic leaving town gathers on U.S. 93 near the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge outside Boulder City on Friday, Feb. 25, 2011.

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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.

A measure applauded by Southern Nevada business leaders as a key to future interstate and international commerce is one step closer to passage after a joint committee of Congress inserted language officially designating a route between Phoenix and Las Vegas as Interstate 11.

The agreement reached Wednesday — 56 years to the day from when President Dwight Eisenhower signed the nation’s first surface transportation bill into law, effectively beginning construction of the interstate highway system — lists I-11 as a route designation in the amended Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991.

Passage of the legislation, which could come later today, wouldn’t provide funding for I-11, but it would put the route in line for federal dollars to upgrade U.S. 93 to interstate highway standards.

The designation is part of the $120 billion bill to renew transportation funding in the United States for the next two years. Current funding is due to expire this weekend.

Business leaders in Nevada and Arizona have backed the I-11 designation as the first stage in connecting Phoenix and Las Vegas, the two largest metropolitan areas not connected by interstate highway. But ultimately, I-11 could be a conduit for international commerce, connecting ports in Mexico with the Canadian border through Nevada.

Some state leaders are eyeing the designation of I-11 as a possible means of funding a four-lane interstate highway linking Las Vegas with Reno.

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce has been one of I-11’s biggest boosters. Following Wednesday’s committee agreement, Kristen McMillan, the organization’s president and CEO, called the designation “a game-changer for our region.”

“Interstate 11 will be the most significant infrastructure built in our region in 50 years and will open up a frontier of opportunities to expand and diversify our economy including in areas of tourism, distribution, manufacturing and logistics,” McMillan said. “It will connect Las Vegas to Phoenix and the entire western region of the United States, positioning Southern Nevada as more nationally and globally competitive.”

In an Associated Press report Thursday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said it would be “a significant step in continuing to foster economic development and tourism, build stronger transportation infrastructure for the Intermountain West and support national and international trade.”

While Congress and federal transportation planners were poring over the national and international implications of I-11, local planners were concentrating on the northern end of the first piece of the project — a 15-mile bypass around Boulder City.

The Regional Transportation Commission and the Nevada Transportation Department conducted a three-hour open house to explain the two-phase Boulder City Bypass Project, which would route traffic coming off the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Bridge south around Boulder City and reconnecting with the U.S. 93 route near the end of Interstate 515 in Henderson.

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This artist's rendering shows what the redesigned interchange of Boulder City Bypass and U.S. 93 would look like at Railroad Pass. Railroad Pass Casino is at left. If U.S. 93 is designated an interstate between Las Vegas and Phoenix, the bypass route would become part of the interstate, officials say.

The Regional Transportation Commission was authorized by the Nevada Legislature to explore development of the bypass as a public-private partnership — a plan that would turn the bypass into a toll road.

While some critics have questioned whether the bypass should be a toll road, the big plus would be that the $500 million project could be completed by 2018 or 2019 with an accelerated construction schedule financed by toll receipts.

Nearly 100 people attended Thursday’s open house on the bypass.

While the bypass route is set — it would start near two casinos, Railroad Pass on the north end and Hacienda on the south — “everything else is on the table,” said Fred Ohene, assistant director of engineering and planning for the RTC.

Ohene explained that the Las Vegas-based Louis Berger Group is analyzing prospective toll structures to determine what price point would guarantee maximum revenue. The company, working with regional offices of CDM Smith, a Massachusetts-based international consulting, engineering, construction and operations firm, is studying tolls ranging from 50 cents to $5 with a number of variations for vehicle size, weight and classification.

Paul Marcella of CDM Smith explained that pricing the toll too high would discourage traffic on it, but pricing it too low wouldn’t generate revenue for the project at a rate sufficient to pay for construction and management of the road.

Ohene said environmental clearances have been obtained for the prospective route, established by the Transportation Department in 2005, but because tolling is being introduced as a prospective new element to the plan, an extra environmental review that would take six to eight months needs to be conducted.

The route would have three access points, two at the end points and at an interchange where the bypass would intersect with U.S. 95, the highway the runs south toward Searchlight and Laughlin.

Most of the route is on flat desert land that would be relatively easy to engineer. But the two miles on the south end of the route is through rugged, mountainous terrain that would include 6 percent grades and a 240-foot rock cut.

Boulder City Mayor Roger Tobler and state Sen. Joe Hardy, whose district includes Boulder City, attended the open house in support of the project.

Tobler said that while some Boulder City residents have expressed concern about the bypass hurting business, he thinks the project “opens up opportunities” for the city.

“That’s why the pricing of the toll is so important,” Tobler said. “Not everybody is going to use the bypass because some people will take the existing route to avoid the toll. But many truck drivers will want to avoid congestion and use it.”

He said a potential opportunity would be the construction of a truck stop terminal. But he added that opens up another issue — the inability of a terminal to generate potential gaming revenue since gambling is illegal within Boulder City limits.

But he said there are other opportunities with the proposed I-11 corridor being envisioned as a high-speed rail, energy and fuel transmission corridor. Hardy noted that representatives of a new solar panel manufacturing plant in Laughlin want better highway infrastructure to transport products and could help fund the highway project.

“The way I see it, we’re already five years behind the commerce curve,” Tobler said. “We always knew what completion of the bridge would do. We need to catch up and the best way to do that is to get details of the tolling resolved.”

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  1. Toll Roads are a never ending Tax on the public and build another bureaucracy. Look up and down the East Coast. Five to ten dollars for many pieces of highway, add Tolls for tunnels and bridges etc... Hot Lanes (Miami and Washington D.C.) wont be far behind.

    Just raise the Gasoline Tax by a nickel and keep profit making corporations out of the Public Highways. Also Interstate 70 stopping out of Salt Lake city, instead of going across Nevada and on to Fresno and the Pacific Ocean is a huge mistake. Las Vegas needs direct access to San Francisco, instead of the current 10 Hour Drive around.
    Get a Tunneling machine from Austria and get it done.

  2. While this won't effect me personally because I don't tend to leave the valley anymore except to go to Lake Mead this could be a good thing.

    As far at the tolls goes, if it is shorter and faster then the toll could be alright. Let a private company pay for the construction and get their return from the tolls. Don't let government workers run the tolls though or it will run at a loss. People say they will go the long way to keep from paying tolls. You spend a few bucks on toll or more on gas. Use common sense here.

    Everyone knows when the government pays to build roads they cost more. Let private industry step in, build it, maintain it for a fair return and save the taxpayers BILLIONS over the years.

    The easier we make it for people to get to Vegas the better it is for all of us. Tourists pay our way of life in this town.

  3. Lee, not everyone knows. Private industry is no more efficient than govt when it comes to construction, plus tack on a 20% profit and how does this become cheaper? You are believing myths. Again. This "govt sucks" attitude is hurting the country. I'm a vet and use the VA, which is the best health care system in the world. (Look it up.) At half the cost of private health care. The govt CAN do it better, if we expect it to. The myth of private enterprise being all mighty is foolish and keeps us from progress. Oops, I shouldn't say the word progress. You guys don't believe in it. Better to go back to the old days that never existed, except in your minds. Good luck with all that.

  4. Mr. Lively,

    Government does not use "government" workers when building a highway. They contract it out. Still profit margins and tend to be higher then when it is being built by a company that is going to run it.

    Comparing VA to private is apples to oranges. You see the cost of your care, you don't see what it costs to give you that care. Big difference.

  5. So gonna build a toll highway to Phoenix using existing tax paid for infrastructure......I am a tax payer and have funded this road....i will give an address you can send my COMP pass to, or you will refund the federal highway funds spent as the road generates revenue......AM NOT PAYING through taxes and PAYING CASH to use......that would be like living in a metro area...paying taxes for emergency services and getting a bill after a fire response. Either your are public or are private......but to straddle the fence long enough will allow this to go in the favor of the $$$$$ instead of the people AGAIN.

  6. and I gotta strongly disagree with a direct road to the Bay Area from Vegas. We are already inundated with people from California. Back in the late 90's, NO HOAs, could actually smoke at a restaurant in a casino, personal crime was low, casinos comped the regulars.....because we played $$$$$, property values remained at a realistic value until..........TOO MANY roads from Cali..........the impact of migration from Cali to NV has attempted to make us such a more understanding and politically correct society, caring for the needs of the poor and downtrodden......BS...maybe this road would best be served linking up with 15 and diverting them to the south.....what's a few more bucks in tolls to them...

  7. @Ben Lambert: The best way and best option to reach San Francisco much quicker will be to expand Interstate 40 at Barstow all the way to the US 101 along the California Coast. It would takeover the current Highway 58 all the way to Bakersfield. From Bakersfield, the new I-40 would interchange with I-5 and go through the mountains and connect with the 101 in Santa Margarita.

    The proposed I-11 could go all the way to Pendleton, Oregon looking at the current US 95 and 395 routes.

  8. The I-11 project is 35 years overdue for sure!

  9. @VidiVeritas: The solution to your idea: Expand I-40 at Barstow to the 101.

  10. I do not see any problems with having a toll road, some states have many, others have none. There are projects a toll is needed to make it happen. I hope they use an electronic SUNPASS (FL) type payment system. Many cars are getting 40 mpg now and really do not pay their fair share of road tax, so a toll kind of hits everyone equally. And as stated, you can always take the long way to avoid it.

  11. The toll-road issue is emphasized to deceive the reader. The underlying issue of this highway is that it is part of the NAFTA highway system that is planned as an interim step in the gradual and sly creation of a North American Union, analogous to the already existing European Union. The SUN substantiates this with the sentence:

    "But ultimately, I-11 could be a conduit for international commerce, connecting ports in Mexico with the Canadian border through Nevada."

    Some of this can be explained by going to http://www.jbs.org/the-john-birch-societ... , which shows a picture of Obama, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper plotting together in the White House on April 2, 2012.