Experts say developing new freeway vital to Southern Nevada

Nevada Department of Transportation

This artist’s rendering shows what the redesigned interchange of Boulder City Bypass and U.S. 93 would look like at Railroad Pass. Railroad Pass Casino is at left. If U.S. 93 is designated an interstate between Las Vegas and Phoenix, the bypass route would become part of the interstate, officials say.

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Tom Skancke, who envisions high-speed rail being built in Las Vegas, stands at the Interstate 215 underpass at Decatur Boulevard.

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This Nevada Department of Transportation graphic shows the route of the proposed Boulder City Bypass. If U.S. 93 is designated an interstate between Las Vegas and Phoenix, the bypass route would become part of the interstate, officials say.

Developing an interstate highway from Southern Arizona to the Pacific Northwest is vital to keeping tourists and goods flowing through Las Vegas, transportation experts say.

Transportation consultant Tom Skancke and Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada General Manager Jacob Snow on Tuesday gave the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board of directors long- and short-term needs assessments of regional transportation.

They said it’s time to urge federal lawmakers to get serious about the development of the proposed Interstate 11, a freeway that would link Southern Arizona with the Pacific Northwest through Las Vegas and Reno.

For the short-term, Snow said, the development of I-11 would be key to solving traffic snarls that have developed as a result of the opening of the new bridge over the Colorado River at Hoover Dam.

When the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge opened last fall, traffic slowed to a crawl through Boulder City as it encounters two lanes and lower speed limits between the Hacienda and the center of Boulder City.

The I-11 proposal includes a bypass of Boulder City around the southern end of town.

“When it first happened, we thought (the traffic jams) were an anomaly,” Snow said of the slow-downs through Boulder City. “But now, we’re seeing that it’s something that happens every weekend.”

Snow said a temporary solution is on the way when the Nevada Department of Transportation works on a $50 million widening of U.S. 93 between the Hacienda and Boulder City in July. But the time is right to gather congressional support for the designation of I-11 as a new interstate highway project, he said.

Delegations from Arizona, Nevada and Washington are on board, and there has been additional support from Oregon and California, because I-11 would relieve some of the north-south congestion that occurs on Interstate 5 through those states.

According to maps Snow showed board members, I-11 would roughly run northwest from Las Vegas along U.S. 95 toward Reno, Oregon and Washington, and southeast toward Phoenix along U.S. 93.

It would include Arizona’s planned Hassayampa Freeway south of Wickenburg and curve south and east around Phoenix, joining established freeways near Casa Grande.

Snow said the route is an important tourism corridor from Phoenix because 8.8 percent of Las Vegas visitors come from Arizona and 90 percent of them drive.

Tourists will also have to contend with more trucks transporting goods in the future as the route becomes more important to commerce.

Skancke noted that tourists and trucks share Interstate 15, the main route between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, as well as the key outbound route from Southern California seaports.

As China’s economy grows, more products will be transported inland from ports in Long Beach and Oakland, Calif.

Imports also will arrive at Punta Colonet, a new port that is a top development priority for Mexico, and I-11 would become an important route for goods into the United States.

Skancke said shipping to ports in California and Mexico is less expensive for China than transporting them through the Panama Canal to the East Coast because the trip takes less time.

The flow of commerce in the United States also will change as more coal is shipped to China. Skancke said highways and rail lines will move more coal from Wyoming mines to California and Mexican ports along I-15 and the future I-11.

Skancke is urging the continued development of highway improvements and rail lines to move goods and tourists.

He expects transportation demands to increase, with the U.S. Census Bureau forecasting Nevada’s population will grow by 116 percent in the next decade. Arizona, California, Utah and Colorado also anticipate double- and triple-digit percentage growth in the years ahead.

In addition to his support of the Western High Speed Rail Alliance and its plans to connect Las Vegas with Phoenix and Salt Lake City with high-speed passenger rail service, Skancke is supporting several highway projects, most of them in California, that would ease traffic between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

His list of improvements include further work on the Devore interchange in San Bernardino, the connection of California Highway 91 and I-15 in Riverside, the High Desert Corridor between Victorville and Palmdale (which also would include right-of-way for high-speed rail to connect the DesertXpress project with the California high-speed train system), the I-15 weigh station at California Highway 138 and improvements in Nevada on I-15 south of Las Vegas.

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  1. This is a good example of backward-think. Freeways are a cost-effective way to move goods and people using cars and trucks only when the fuel to power those cars and trucks is cheap. We have already seen a substantial increase in fuel prices -- and the price of fuel is projected to increase further as worldwide demand for it increases and supplies dwindle.

    On the other hand, rail and water are more fuel efficient. So if there is a real need to transport goods and people North and South through an I-11 corridor, build it as rail not road -- and build it where it does not have to repeatedly go up and down over mountains.

  2. What about a freeway to Phoenix? Those people are a lot closer and they don't have any interstate to bring them here....

    If you build a road to the northwest, however, build a pipeline alongside it so we can grab some of the rain that inundates that area for Lake Mead.

  3. Build it as a private toll road, or at least allow a private company to build it and lease it as a toll road. It will be built quicker, smarter, and cheaper than if the government did it, plus Nevada residents wouldn't have to pay for it via are already high gas taxes.

    High speed rail is a waste of money. Way too expensive and it doesn't carry enough people to justify its existence.

  4. Mr. Goodman,

    High speed rail is not energy efficient unless you exclude the very, very high cost of building the rail line itself. High speed rail proposals also tend to assume that cars will not become more fuel efficient over the next 30 years....which is nonsense.

    Already, some rail lines (in urban cities) are less energy efficient than pickup trucks.

  5. That a freeway between Phoenix & Vegas hasn't been built long before this is, well, mind boggling! Neither is a one-horse town or whistle stop. Both are major metro areas and having a "world-class" roadway between the two is a no-brainer. And a tollway is not a bad idea, either. Don't want to pay? Use the existing "free" roadways.

  6. Patrick.: My vision of I-11 Rail is plain old fashioned steel rails. Its' chief purpose is to haul freight North and South for shipment through the new Chinese port at Punta Colonet, or to transfer freight to the port of Los Angeles/Long Beach via exchange with the Union Pacific and the BNSF. Coal and bulk commodities don't need high speed rail. As for passenger service, The rail lines should be new enough long enough -- and freight traffic light enough -- to run regular passenger trains until we can see whether the market will pay for something faster.

    But (1) We should be skeptical about the claims about the "financial advantages" of sea, rail, sea as a viable way to ship stuff between China and Europe. Offloading and onloading takes time -- and stuff tends to get "lost" at transit changeover points. (2) We ought to consider that supersized ships going through either a sea level canal or one with few locks (as the rebuild Panama Canal would provide) would be the cost-effective way to go, especially with fuel prices rising, as ships don't have to expend energy dealing with terrain. And (3) We ought to keep in mind that the major flow axis is East-West NOT North-South -- and the general alignment of I-11 would be North-South. (Of course, the rail version of I-ll already exists. It is called the Union Pacific. And the either the UP can build it out or the BNSF can establish a new route. But perhaps the fact that neither seems to be doing it might be a clue for us.

    I suspect that if built as Freeway, the portions of I-ll (except for the Las Vegas to Phoenix segment, and the segment between the Mexican border and Phoenix) will surpass US 50 as the loneliest road in the US -- and the money spent on its construction is likely to be totally wasted. Except for the LV to PHX and PHX to the Mexican Border segments, the tolls won't cover the maintenance, let alone give private investors a return on their capital.

  7. @LericGoodman
    You sound smart, you ought to research your facts. There is NO Punta Colonet Chinese port. The Mexicans would like to build one there, but so far its a pipe dream. Punta Colonet is South of San diego, about 140 miles on the Pacific coast. It is not a Chinese Port. It will belong to the Mexicans. It has no bearing on Southern Nevada at all, none. What is wrong with you people, and where do you get your information, Fox ??