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Highway project

When the economy tumbles and is slow to recover, liberal government planners frequently propose infrastructure improvements to help reverse downturns (see above). But as a prescription for curing unemployment woes or jump-starting the private sector, such projects rarely work.

Take the idea for an interstate between Las Vegas and Phoenix — as part of a corridor connecting the proposed Mexican port of Punta Colonet to the Pacific Northwest and Canada. While the idea has merit given the population explosions in both cities, it’s unlikely to be a big job creator any time soon.

The proposed Interstate 11 would mostly improve and connect existing roads, including stretches of U.S. Highway 93 and U.S. Highway 95, which are inadequate to handle significant increases in commercial traffic.

But supporters might learn some lessons from the folks who launched a similar undertaking two decades ago: pitching the extension of Interstate 69 south, eventually creating a highway running from the Mexican border in Texas to the Canadian border in Michigan.

In a Wall Street Journal book review two weeks ago, Mary Anastasia O’Grady ran through the highlights of Matt Dellinger’s new book, “Interstate 69,” which documents how a project that seemingly benefited everyone came off the tracks. Eminent domain opponents, environmentalists, back-stabbing politicians and feuding towns wanting highway stops all contributed to preventing the road from being built.

To say the Interstate 11 project faces challenges is an understatement. A couple of things are pretty clear, however:

— There’s no way the federal government will pick up the entire tab. Even if the project were part of a larger highway construction bill, states would be expected to pick up the bulk of the bill.

— Environmental extremists such as the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity will sue to block the project, creating numerous expenses and delays.

We live in times much different from those of only a few decades ago. Large-scale government projects that once could be built in just a few years — Hoover Dam, anyone? — can’t get off the drawing board today because of regulation and litigation. If Interstate 11 is ever going to be built, it’s going to take a long, long, long time, one small step at a time.

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