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September 19, 2014

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Henderson officials voice support for proposed Interstate 11

The Henderson City Council expressed its continued support Tuesday night of the proposed Interstate 11 project that would connect the Las Vegas Valley to Phoenix.

Tom Skancke -- the president of The Skancke Co. Ltd. and a transportation consultant to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority -- made a 30-minute presentation about the future of transportation in the West to the council.

Skancke stressed the importance of regional connectivity in the flow of goods from Asia to the East Coast of the United States, saying the country has become an import nation.

Four of the 10 busiest ports are on the Western seaboard, he said, and 45 percent of goods coming into the Southern California ports must travel east of the Mississippi River.

“These goods have to move through our community from Los Angeles on their way to Chicago and Memphis, which are the two major hubs in the Midwest to get things to the East Coast,” he said.

And despite the economic downturn, the amount of goods being imported into Southern California continues to grow, Skancke said.

In 2005, 10 million shipping containers made their way through the Southern California ports. By 2020, Skancke said he estimates that amount will quadruple.

In addition, he said, population in Western states continues to expand. U.S. Census projections show that Nevada and Arizona may more than double their populations by 2030.

To meet the rising demand for these goods and address the rapid population growth, Skancke is lobbying for more interstate highways to connect the Las Vegas Valley to Western transportation hubs as far away as Denver, Seattle and Albuquerque.

“Our economic backbone has been our infrastructure system,” Skancke said. “It is the only proven formula in our country for job creation… that has worked for over 200 years.”

For the Las Vegas Valley, officials said increasing regional connectivity means building a new I-11 highway between Las Vegas and Phoenix, which Skancke notes are the nation’s only two metropolitan areas of more than 1 million residents that are not connected by an interstate highway.

“This would be the first interstate highway constructed in the 21st century in the United States,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement and movement around this project. This is critical for the future of our community.”

Funding for the construction of the I-11 highway is still being sought, Skancke said. If the project receives the Interstate Highway designation, federal dollars can be allocated to the project, which would offset its cost, estimated at $3 million a mile.

Plans have called incorporating portions of existing U.S. Highways 93 and 95 in Nevada into I-11.

Although the Nevada Legislature is in support of the project, funding from the Arizona side might be an issue, Skancke said.

“The Arizona delegation, while they support I-11, they’re a little different animal down there as it relates to funding,” he said. “Funding will be a challenge … because the Arizona delegation does not believe in any type of earmarking, what I call program-enhancement funding.”

Henderson City Council members said they appreciated the presentation, with Mayor Andy Hafen giving the project an unequivocal, “We’re behind you all the way.”

Councilwoman Debra March, the city’s representative on the Regional Transportation Commission board, said she would like to see the city work closely with federal officials on the I-11 project.

“Transportation really is the framework from which development occurs,” March said. “Our population projection is pretty significant that we’re going to need to be planning strategically for the future… (The I-11 project) will bring goods and services as well as tourism to our community.”

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