Count Nevada and Arizona among the big winners in the compromise highway and transit bill passed by Congress this week.
As lawmakers and congressional staff hammered out details - the federal government's ability to pay for transportation projects would have expired today - they included language to designate a new Interstate 11 corridor between the Las Vegas and the Phoenix metropolitan areas.
The designation does not dedicate funding for the project. It makes the I-11 route eligible for future interstate funding and moves forward the studies needed to improve the only stretches of the CANAMEX corridor that aren't expressway-calliber. That route - from the Mexican border to Canada - is vital to international trade and will get busier as more trucks come north from expanding Mexican ports.
Las Vegas and Phoenix are the nation's only two adjacent areas of more than 1 million residents not directly connected by an interstate highway.
Arizona has put hundreds of millions of dollars into U.S. Highway 93 over the years, and those upgrades, combined with the completion of the Hoover Dam bypass bridge, have made the drive between Phoenix and Las Vegas easier. But there remain two-lane stretches where trucks can cause major delays, leading drivers to make dangerous passes. U.S. 93's transition to Interstate 40 through Kingman is cumbersome, to say nothing of delays through Boulder City.
Interstate 11, as envisioned by the Nevada and Arizona congressional delegations and departments of transportation, would get rid of those choke points and further shorten the drive time between Phoenix and Las Vegas to about four hours. Every member of the Nevada and Arizona delegations - Democrat and Republican - supported the inclusion of the I-11 designation in the highway bill.
It will take many years - perhaps decades - before a completed I-11 is realized, but that day is coming. Nevada's share of the work is very small compared with Arizona's, so lawmakers and transportation planners need to make it a funding priority. I-11 will be a boon to commerce and tourism alike. In a state that needs all the good economic news it can get, this is a welcome development from Washington.