EDITORIAL: Public should voice support at I-11 meeting

Attending public meetings isn’t the most entertaining way to spend an evening. In fact, it’s often a great cure for insomnia. But when a meeting addresses an issue vital to the future of economic development in Southern Nevada, the importance ratchets up a few notches — and particularly in the midst of a still-sluggish recovery and poor employment numbers.

As reported last week by the Review-Journal’s Sean Whaley, the Nevada and Arizona departments of transportation will bring discussion of the federally approved Interstate 11 corridor to Las Vegas on Thursday, with a 5:30 p.m. meeting at the Nevada Department of Transportation’s District I main training room at 123 E. Washington Ave. The meeting will also address the Intermountain West Corridor, which could expand I-11 in the future to link Mexico and Canada.

Both projects would provide huge economic benefits for the Las Vegas Valley, tying it not only to the ever-growing, major metropolitan Phoenix market, but to the international markets of Mexico and Canada. Las Vegas and Phoenix are the largest adjacent metropolitan areas in the United States not directly connected by an interstate highway. As we’ve editorialized previously, that fact alone is enough to justify the construction of a major freeway between the population centers and their more than 6 million residents.

A study released in July further supports the need for a better Vegas-to-Phoenix connection. The draft study, prepared by consultants for the Nevada and Arizona transportation departments, says the freeway would be an engine for economic growth throughout the Intermountain West region. Not only is the multibillion-dollar project justified, but according to the study, it’s absolutely necessary to keep up with population increases and growing international trade.

Arizona has already invested billions of dollars in its highways, not only to keep up with population growth, but to handle commercial traffic from California and Mexico. The state has identified about $50 billion in highway and bridge needs over the next 25 years to continue to grow its economy, including the I-11 link to Las Vegas. Unfortunately, Nevada has made its share of work on the I-11 project a decidedly low priority. That has to change. We must invest in our freeways so tourists can get here and commerce can come through here. Economic growth will follow.

The opportunity to get that growth on a faster track comes Thursday evening for Southern Nevada businesses and citizens. If at all possible, locals should go to this meeting and participate, speaking out in favor of this much-needed project. If you can’t attend, you should review the study at www.i11study.com and submit comments. We need to send a message to local, state and federal officials that Southern Nevada supports this project and the commerce boom that would accompany it.

At a time when our economy needs every bit of help it can get, infrastructure that can speed travel between these major markets would no doubt provide such help. A strong turnout at Thursday’s meeting would be a great first step.

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