Sunday, March 9, 2014 | 3:01 a.m.
Plans to build an interstate highway between Las Vegas and Phoenix have drawn critics recently, ranging from people who don’t want to see a freeway in their backyard to observers who dismiss it completely.
An Associated Press story last week noted some of the criticism, including those who wondered whether the interstate is really needed or whether it is a vanity project.
“Kill away all the layered arguments, and an awful lot comes down to ‘We’re too important not to have it,’ ” transportation historian Earl Swift said.
It’s true that Las Vegas and Phoenix are the largest metropolitan areas in the nation without an interstate connecting them, but building an interstate between the cities isn’t about ego. It’s about economic development.
Las Vegas lies on a route between Phoenix and Salt Lake City, two regional hubs that serve on the “Canamex corridor” between Canada and Mexico. An interstate between Las Vegas and Phoenix is a key part of Canamex, particularly with Phoenix working to become a major inland port for foreign goods and Mexico’s plans to build a deep-water port in Baja California.
Las Vegas could serve as a key hub for trucks and tourists along the Canamex corridor. Las Vegas is already an international destination, but it could also become a distribution point for points north, including Salt Lake City, Reno, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Northwest. There’s one thing slowing that development, though: the road.
It’s not easy to drive between Las Vegas and Phoenix, as anyone who has driven between the cities can attest. Despite years of work and improvements, it’s still a difficult and, at times, dangerous journey that includes stoplights and stretches of two-lane roads.
Arizona has done a considerable amount of work to try to widen roads and ease the demand of travel, and last year, Congress officially designated the route between Las Vegas and Phoenix as Interstate 11, which allows the project to compete for federal money.
But progress has been slow in Nevada. The state has struggled to move forward to build a bypass around Boulder City, a key step to creating the interstate because Boulder City is a bottleneck on the route.
Building the bypass should be a relatively small task in a state that knows how to do major projects, but during the past several years, state officials have seemed ambivalent about Interstate 11 and the bypass. Even Gov. Brian Sandoval once wondered whether building it would become a “road to nowhere,” but recently, he has expressed his commitment for the interstate, saying he would press presidential candidates to support it.
That’s good. Interstate 11 needs to be supported and pushed. There shouldn’t be any more delay, and Sandoval is correct: Interstate 11 should be a campaign issue, not just in Clark County but for the entire state. The project is good for the state’s economy, and officials across Nevada should make the road and building the bypass a priority.