Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle and transportation leaders from the federal government and two states gathered Monday on a breezy bluff overlooking a four-lane highway bottleneck near the newly reopened Hoover Dam Lodge for a historic groundbreaking for the first section of Interstate 11.
The initial 15-mile piece of infrastructure for the four-lane freeway linking Phoenix with Las Vegas will be a bypass around Boulder City.
The midmorning groundbreaking ceremony featured appearances by Nevada’s two senators, two congressmen, the governor and lieutenant governor, several local officials and a top administrator with the Federal Highway Administration.
Speakers addressed a crowd of about 200 people from a dais built atop a concrete box culvert that will drain water away from the freeway that one day will carry traffic on I-11.
Most of the speakers celebrated putting their political differences aside and lauded the local, state and federal teamwork necessary to convince Congress to designate the I-11 corridor and piece together the more than $318 million needed to build the highway.
Officials involved in the project said now that work has been started on the bypass that attention would be focused on the much-longer northern section of I-11 from Las Vegas to Interstate 80 at or near Reno.
Nevada Transportation Department officials already are working toward using the U.S. Highway 95 corridor through Indian Springs, Beatty and Fallon to extend I-11, but the funding of and construction of that are still years away.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, making his first public appearance in Nevada since an accident with exercise equipment that partially blinded him, said the I-11 project is an example of why he disagrees with President Barrack Obama about the philosophy of using congressional earmarks to get needed projects underway.
Reid said the designation of I-11 was an earmarked program attached to other legislation and once the designation was made, a coalition of senators and congressmen from Nevada and Arizona teamed to include I-11 in other bills.
Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown, who chairs the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, paid tribute to Boulder City Mayor Roger Tobler, who also serves on the board.
Some Boulder City residents resisted the plan to bypass the city just north of the Hoover Dam, but Brown said Tobler worked to the greater good of Southern Nevada and the state by supporting the plan.
Gov. Brian Sandoval, who earlier joked that his speech blew away in the gusty morning winds, applauded the 4,000 construction jobs that would come with construction of I-11.
The new highway is being constructed in two simultaneously run phases, a 2.5-mile section on the north end, contracted by the Nevada Transportation Department for $83 million, and a 12.5-mile section on the southern end contracted by the Regional Transportation Commission for $235 million. The bypass is expected to be completed in early 2018.
Two prime contractors already have won bids for the two phases of the project — Las Vegas Paving for the longer southern end of the project and Fisher Sand & Gravel for the shorter northern piece.
The highway will be the first new infrastructure for the 47,856-mile Interstate Highway System — the second largest in the world — since 1992 when the system was deemed completed.
State officials from Nevada and Arizona lobbied heavily to designate the route between Phoenix and Las Vegas, and eventually a route between the Mexican and Canadian borders, to be called I-11.
The project celebrated in Monday’s historic groundbreaking event is a 15-mile section bypassing Boulder City from about a mile north of the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge over the Colorado River to the southern end of what is now designated Interstate 515 and U.S. Highway 95 near the Railroad Pass Casino.
In addition to Reid, Brown, Sandoval and Tobler, presentations were made by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., Reps. Joe Heck and Cresent Hardy, both R-Nev., Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison and Republican State Sen. Joe Hardy, who represents the Boulder City area.
There also were presentations by Clark County Commissioner Mary Beth Scow, who represents the area on the commission, and Gregory Nadeau, acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.
Monday’s event also was a platform for Clark County’s fuel revenue index funds, established by the County Commission following authorization by the Nevada Legislature, since the bypass project is the largest fuel indexing project on record.
State lawmakers are working to extend fuel revenue indexing authorizations in the current legislative session.
Nadeau also said the I-11 project would illustrate how local governments work cooperatively with the federal government on major highway projects and the importance of continued support of the U.S. Highway Trust Fund for infrastructure projects.
Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at email@example.com or 702-477-3893. Find him on Twitter: @RickVelotta.