Input sought on link between Las Vegas, Phoenix

No defined timeline. No precise route. No federal funding.

The Interstate 11 project that would connect Las Vegas and Phoenix might have gone from dream to vision in July with the passing of a federal transportation authorization bill. But it remains thousands of days and untold billions of dollars away from becoming rubber-to-road reality.

And don’t even ask about the Intermountain West Corridor that some propose would be a north-south interstate from Mexico to Canada, akin to Interstate 5 to the west, that would have Las Vegas as one of its key components.

“We’re at the very, very beginning. Right now, this is all basically a vision,” Sondra Rosenberg, I-11 and Intermountain West Corridor project manager for the Nevada Department of Transportation, said Thursday at a public information hearing at the Henderson Convention Center.

“We’re doing a lot of data collection at this time, identifying stakeholders and partners, what economic opportunities the project might present and, of course, determining demand by the public.”

Demand being the reason for Thursday’s hearing, attended by almost as many transportation management folks from Southern Nevada and Arizona as common folk: approximately three dozen in all.

NDOT and the Arizona Department of Transportation seek input as to whether the public wants an interstate for the approximate 285 miles between Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Most of the area between the two cities – the two largest neighboring metropolitan areas in the United States not linked by an interstate – is connected by central Arizona’s U.S. Highway 93, which is being expanded throughout to a four-lane highway.

Using U.S. 93 is the most discussed route for a proposed I-11, but there could be some variations to reduce distance.

Consensus in Arizona, according to Michael Kies, ADOT’s project manager, is that the public is for I-11. A reciprocal public information hearing in Phoenix is scheduled for Tuesday.

“A lot of people see (the interstate) as a possibility to bring more economic development to the state of Arizona, and so we’re looking at it from that standpoint,” Kies said. That probably would include a future extension of the corridor from Mexico to Phoenix, spurring trade shipments northward.

The I-11 project is in the first of six stages – beginning with a two-year planning study, followed by a National Environmental Policy Act study; a preliminary design of the route; a final design of the route; right of way, engineering and land acquisition; and the start of construction.

Start date?

Who knows?

Same for the cost, although the word “billions” is seemingly mentioned billions of times when the project is discussed. The signing of the federal authorization bill – Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21 – did not include funding.

That would still have to be secured, and some speculate that in tough economic times that money might be extremely hard to come by.

“We can’t really speculate on the timing of construction, and I’m not going to speculate on the cost,” Rosenberg said. “As for the cost, there are too many variables: the (route) design, the number of lanes, right of way, environmental impact. All these things would have to be mitigated first.”

Actually, the one part of the proposed project that seems to be moving forward at a little faster pace is Boulder City Bypass Phase 1, a 2.75-mile start to the south-and-west circumvention of driving through downtown Boulder City. Phase 1 of the bypass, coordinated by NDOT, is in the parcel acquisition stage.

Phase 2, directed by the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, is 12 miles long and is projected to extend from U.S. Highway 95 to the recently completed Nevada interchange at State Route 172, the road to Hoover Dam.

The RTC is studying the financial feasibility of the Boulder City Bypass being a tolled public-private partnership. That study is expected to be completed in spring 2013.

Contact reporter Joe Hawk at jhawk@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2912. Follow him on Twitter: @RJroadwarrior.

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