WASHINGTON – With the proposed Interstate 11 connecting Southern Nevada and Phoenix on a path to reality, Nevada leaders are setting their sights on the next stretch, north from Las Vegas.
Sens. Dean Heller and Harry Reid are looking to insert wording into an upcoming federal highway bill that would designate an Interstate 11 corridor through Northern Nevada. While studies still are ongoing and substantive work might be a decade or more out, favorable mention in the bill would effectively plant an early flag for a project that must compete for billions in federal dollars.
At a Senate hearing Wednesday, Heller asked Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx for his support.
“What we are trying to do is increase trade, create jobs and improve our economy,” said Heller, who noted census projections show the Mountain West growing 28.5 percent by 2030 and traffic expected to soar.
“We probably bring in double what we produce in the state of Nevada,” Heller said. “Obviously the availability to move freight will determine what world-class experience we offer in Nevada.”
Foxx’s response was encouraging, though he didn’t say he would support specific wording in the bill.
“The types of challenges you describe in Nevada are challenges we see all over the country,” he said. The Transportation Secretary said he would direct officials with the Federal Highway Administration to work with the state.
Heller made a similar pitch last week in a letter to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is working through the summer on re-authorization of highway and mass transit programs. Reid, the Senate majority leader, has arranged with committee chairman Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to place an I-11 provision in the bill, said his spokeswoman, Kristen Orthman. Both Reid and Heller said it is too early to draft specific language as state officials have yet to select possible routes.
Orthman said a Nevada Department of Transportation board of directors meeting in June is expected to yield sufficient direction for lawmakers to pursue legislation.
With the Las Vegas-to-Phoenix project already a major undertaking, Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said she believes Nevada shouldn’t look too far down the road yet, a spokeswoman said. Titus sits on the House transportation committee that will also work on the highway bill.
“The (Nevada) delegation should be focusing its efforts first on connecting Las Vegas and Phoenix,” said Titus spokeswoman Caitlin Teare. “The congresswoman will work with Nevada DOT to examine any needed changes to the current authorization at the proper time.”
Nevada and Arizona are nearing the end of a two-year study of plans for I-11 connecting Las Vegas and Phoenix. That project received congressional designation in 2012, and work is expected to begin soon on a highway bypass around Boulder City as an initial phase of construction.
Many uncertainties lay ahead, however. The cost of new highways and upgrade of existing roads to interstate standards through 400 miles of Arizona hasn’t been determined. Nor has funding been nailed down.
The study, to wrap up in July, covered seven possible I-11 corridors through Nevada and recommended two for further study. Its “most favorable” route follows US 95 north from Las Vegas to Interstate 80, then west to US 395 in Reno and north into California and Oregon.
The study also recommended further analysis of a route that loosely follows the U.S. 95 corridor through the Fernley/Fallon area, than on to Oregon and Idaho through Winnemucca.
Sondra Rosenberg, a Nevada Department of Transportation planner and project manager for the study, said the transportation board that includes Gov. Brian Sandoval and other top officials may also want to consider a route along U.S. 93 in eastern Nevada.
“If I had to guesstimate, we are a decade away if not more, or less, in terms of what routes might be taken,” said Damon Hodge, a Nevada Department of Transportation spokesman.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau chief Steve Tetreault at 202-783-1760 or STetreault@stephensmedia.com. Follow @STetreaultDC on Twitter