Interstate 11 is coming, and Southern Nevadans will need to be careful what they wish for.
Eventually — likely decades from now — a completed Interstate 11 will directly link Las Vegas and Phoenix, the two largest adjacent metropolitan areas in the United States without a seamless freeway connection. At some point, I-11 also will stretch south to the Mexican border and run north to the Canadian border. The route promises to become a major international commercial corridor before it’s finished, because north-south routes across the West Coast and the Midwest already are heavily congested.
I-11 is the single most important infrastructure project in the state and the key to economic development across the Intermountain West. But the planning process, which is several years along, still must determine the highway’s route across the Las Vegas Valley. The biggest question at this point is whether I-11 should use already-crowded existing highways through the urban core or carve a new path outside the city.
The Nevada Department of Transportation held a public meeting Thursday to address that very issue, and most of the roughly 50 people in attendance opposed a new highway east of the valley. That route, one of three proposed, would take I-11 between Frenchman Mountain and Lake Mead, and connect northern Boulder City to Interstate 15 near Nellis Air Force Base with between 23 and 25 miles of new road at an estimated cost of $1.1 billion. The route would continue along the Las Vegas Beltway west to U.S. Highway 95, then head north out of town. As reported by the Review-Journal’s Richard Velotta, residents who opposed the route had environmental concerns or didn’t want the freeway running through older Henderson neighborhoods or near Lake Las Vegas.
However, rejecting this route ensures I-11 will take the road more traveled, along congested U.S. 95 or along the southern and western Las Vegas Beltway. If either of these routes is selected, valley motorists can look forward to years upon years upon years of highway construction to widen these highways and improve their bridges, to say nothing of all the additional right of way that would have to be purchased. The reward for commuters upon the completion of this work: tons more truck traffic through town and across I-15 at already busy interchanges.
A new route, on the other hand, ensures much of the construction work leaves existing valley traffic largely unaffected. Of course, doing nothing is not an option. The traffic is coming no matter what. And not-in-my-backyard politics won’t spare the public from delays and inconvenience.
Be careful what you wish for.