Published Monday, April 6, 2015 | 12:22 p.m.
Updated Monday, April 6, 2015 | 4 p.m.
Federal, state and local officials gathered in Boulder City today to celebrate the groundbreaking of a highway bypass project that one day will form a key part of Interstate 11, linking Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Officials hailed the start of construction on the Boulder City bypass as a historic moment for Southern Nevada that will help boost the region’s economy and improve connectivity across the Southwest.
“We’re starting something today that’s going to impact generations to come,” Clark County Commissioner and Regional Transportation Commission Chairman Larry Brown said.
The 15-mile project is being built from I-515 to U.S. 93, dipping south around Boulder City before connecting with the new Hoover Dam bypass bridge. It will allow traffic to flow smoothly without going through Boulder City, where several stop lights and lower speed limits along the current route contribute to congestion.
When completed in 2018, the project is expected to shave at least 30 minutes off travel from the Hoover Dam bridge to Henderson, according to the RTC.
Numerous roadblocks still lie ahead for the larger Interstate 11 project, most importantly securing billions of dollars in funding from the federal government. Past interstate projects have been paid for using the Highway Trust Fund, but that pool of money has shrunk dramatically over the years due an outdated funding model that relies on gas tax revenues.
Congress has passed a series of short-term fixes to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent, but officials at today's event said a long-term solution needs to be put into place before a project like Interstate 11 can be completed.
"I don't want to rain on the parade totally, but this country is in desperate shape for ways to pay for infrastructure. We have a $3 trillion deficit for roads, bridges, dams, highways and we've got to do something about that," U.S. Sen. Harry Reid said. "We've had a series of short term extensions...and it's been a disaster. The departments of transportation in Arizona and Nevada can't plan ahead when we extend the transportation bill for six months."
Reid said the country was going to have to come up with a new way to pay for infrastructure projects that reflects changes in how people travel and the prevalence of increasingly fuel-efficient vehicles. Congress will need to take action, most likely in the form of a short term fix, before the end of May to keep the Highway Trust Fund afloat.
Even if it is funded, building the Interstate 11 corridor would take decades to complete.
But once finished, it will be one of the most important infrastructure pieces in Southern Nevada's history, positioning the region as a logistics hub while helping speed the flow of goods from Mexico to Phoenix to Las Vegas, and eventually from Reno on to Canada. Las Vegas and Phoenix are the two largest adjacent metropolitan areas in the country without an interstate between them.
Despite the uncertain future of the larger project, officials today were quick to emphasize the immediate local impact of beginning construction on the 15-mile bypass.
"You've got to start somewhere," Gov. Brian Sandoval said. "This is a major beginning in terms of building probably one of the biggest infrastructure projects we've seen in the southwest United States for some time."
The $318 million project is being built in two simultaneous phases. The Nevada Department of Transportation will be responsible for a 2.5 mile stretch of road from I-515 to U.S. 95 while the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada will build 12.5 miles from U.S. 95 to U.S. 93 at the Hoover Dam bridge. The project will be funded using $291 million in federal funds, $22 million generated by a recent increase in the county gas tax and $5 million in state funding.
Other officials in attendance at today’s ceremony included U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, U.S. Reps. Joe Heck and Cresent Hardy, Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, as well as officials from Clark County, Henderson, Boulder City, Las Vegas and Arizona.