Interstate 11 Marks the Start of a New Race to the Border

The Boulder City bypass job aims to simplify your travels from Arizona to Nevada and eventually even Mexico.

Illustration by Cierra Pedro

Illustration by Cierra Pedro

Donald Trump isn’t the only billionaire thinking about the Mexican border. While the presidential candidate proposes a soaring wall be built there, paid for by Mexico, the famous Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú has been talking about extending plans for Interstate 11 across the border and 1,300 miles to Mexico City.

The world’s second-richest person (to Bill Gates’ No. 1, according to Forbes), Helú huddled with developer and former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey about the highway at a Phoenix business forum in April. Colangelo has offered to donate $100 million in land to make I-11 a reality in Arizona, and state officials would love to speed up its clogged border crossings, since almost half of Arizona’s exports go to Mexico.

The upshot of the Arizona bigshots’ meeting with the Mexican tycoon came in mid-June when, olé, olé, olé, Arizona and Mexico executed a memorandum of understanding to extend I-11 along Mexican Route 15 to Mexico City.

Coincidentally, I-11 took its first concrete step forward at about the same time Helú was chatting up the Arizonans. That’s when earth-moving equipment started rumbling outside Las Vegas to begin work on a 15-mile road from Henderson to the Hoover Dam bypass. Upon completion in 2018, the new roadway will constitute I-11’s national debut. Skirting Boulder City on the south and east, the new highway is expected to shave 30 minutes of driving time between the Hoover Dam bypass bridge and Henderson with increased safety and convenience.

“The project is mostly out in the barren desert where we won’t have to disrupt traffic. It’s a really smooth project from our perspective.” – Mike Hand

The new project invites comparisons to the 1926 designation of Route 66, celebrated in fiction and history for transforming travel, communities and economic development from Chicago to Los Angeles. In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck dubbed it “The Mother Road.”

But with two years of construction to go, it may be more pressing to examine how the bypass job will affect local drivers and businesses.

Tony Illia, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT), predicts minimal disruption and inconvenience to area residences and businesses. Mike Hand, director of engineering for streets and highways with the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC), is equally optimistic.

“The project is mostly out in the barren desert where we won’t have to disrupt traffic,” Hand says. As an engineer, Hand appreciates the opportunity to build somewhere not in the middle of an active roadway. “It’s a really smooth project from our perspective,” he says.

The $318 million, four-lane divided highway is developing in two concurrent phases. NDOT is constructing a 2.5-mile stretch from Railroad Pass to U.S. 95, continuing to Silverline Road (to be completed in early 2018), while the RTC takes care of the 12.5-mile section from Silverline Road to U.S. 93 near the Hoover Dam bypass bridge (to be completed in October 2018).

After the bypass is complete, I-11 will be branching northward and southward—as soon as it clears the bureaucratic detours that will decide its final route and financing strategies.

The project mostly consists of new highway—except where I-11 connects with I-515, U.S. 93 and U.S. 95. A mile frontage road is being built linking Henderson with the Railroad Pass Interchange. Any traffic rerouting will be connected to building the interchanges, and drivers will be alerted in advance via signs and media. Brief drops in speed are the only anticipated driving changes, according to Hand.

The project’s first traffic disruption is scheduled to start as early as mid-March and last for eight months, when traffic on U.S. 95 is diverted to a three-quarter-mile temporary road while a bridge is built over the current U.S. 95 roadbed.

After the bypass is complete, I-11 will be branching northward and southward—as soon as it clears the bureaucratic detours that will decide its final route and financing strategies.

A new federal law (the FAST Act) in December 2015 designated U.S. 95 between Las Vegas and I-80 in Reno as the future I-11 corridor in Nevada and identified an I-11 corridor in Arizona from the Nevada border to Mexico. Meanwhile, NDOT is determining the best route for I-11 through metropolitan Las Vegas, and a study is under way evaluating the state’s freight needs in light of the new highway, among other factors. The Arizona Department of Transportation has begun a three-year environmental impact study, covering a proposed I-11 segment from Wickenburg to the Mexican border.

Planning continues to outpace funding. The federal designation of I-11 corridors in Nevada and Arizona doesn’t release any funds, but it does make I-11 eligible for federal money. In the meantime, any word from Carlos Slim?

To participate in the I-11 public discussion, visit I-11NV.com or contact officials at 702-929-2013 or info@1-11nv.com.

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