Nevada’s Department of Transportation is working on figuring out where to put I-11 through and north of Las Vegas. The route between Las Vegas and Phoenix is pretty well established – along the current US 93 alignment from Las Vegas, with a bypass south of Boulder City, over the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge, until US 93 hits Wickenburg, AZ, about an hour outside of Phoenix, where it branches southwest through the Hassayampa Valley down to I-10 west of Phoenix. A full listing of all the possibilities are available here (20MB PDF).
The route through Vegas is a difficult one – it would cost at least a billion, likely two billion, to upgrade US 95 to be wide enough to carry the extra traffic – the portion of US 95 east of the I-15 interchange would need a billion-plus makeover to fix the 1970s-style viaducts, and recently widened western half would need to be widened again, with some additional interchanges constructed. Two options are to use the existing 215 three-quarters beltway around the city (one around the city clockwise, which would come within 2 miles of my house, and one counter-clockwise) – however the lack of an eastern leg of the beltway means that a new leg would need to be created, and the alternatives indicate building it behind Sunrise Mountain through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and connecting it to the I-15 north of Nellis AFB. After reviewing all the alternatives, I think the best route is to build the leg near Lake Mead, and connect it to the existing 215 highway (Alternate QQ). Work would need to be done ASAP* to secure additional right-of-way along the highway to allow it to expand up to 5 or 6 lanes in each direction. The clockwise usage of the 215 would require some additional right-of-way in certain areas, but would overall be much cheaper than expanding US 95 in place, as well as allowing for the highway to be up to 5 lanes in each direction, whereas portions of the existing US 95 are already that width, and would need to expand an additional two lanes to 7 lanes.
I’m sad to see the I-11 committee has removed my preferred route north of Las Vegas – Alternate GG through central Nevada. I would have liked to see I-11 run through central Nevada, with a spur line (I-511) connecting it from where it turns north from US-95, on to I-80 near Reno. I think this would have provided the travelling public with a much faster way to get north to places like Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, rather than going all the way over to Reno, then all the way back west to Boise. If the route continues north to I-84 in Oregon, then going through Reno would be a better choice. I expect Alternate SS to win out – following the US 95 corridor northwest to I-80 near Reno, and from there up US 395 to I-84 near the Columbia River.
But to me, its putting the cart before the horse – lets focus on getting I-11 from Las Vegas to Phoenix located, funded, and designed (glaring at Nevada’s past and present Governors and NDOT officials who have spent half a billion dollars for a highway to connect Reno to Carson City, but don’t want to fund the Boulder City Bypass with state dollars, instead suggesting a toll road), and from there we can map out where its going to go next. The Boulder City Bypass is job #1 at this point, with the Kingman Interchange next, along with all the improvements between the two to make it a full fledged interstate highway, at least from Vegas to Kingman.
From there, its on to US 93 between I-40 and Wickenburg, which has had substantial improvements over the last 10 years or so, with only three projects left to complete to make it four lanes between I-40 and the Santa Maria River – I’m guessing AZDOT won’t do any work south of the Santa Maria River until the I-11 corridor is finalized so they know where to expand it to interstate standards and where not to spend the money.
On that front – Arizona DOT has selected a preferred corridor and preliminary design for the Kingman interchange (PDF), with an estimated cost of only $86M. That pales in comparison to the $300-400M estimates for the Boulder City Bypass, but then again the BCB is a lot more work digging through the Eldorado mountains. However, Arizona would also need to spend more money on interchanges along the I-11 highway to remove at-grade crossings (I’m guessing 5 between Hoover Dam and Kingman).
* Sadly, this cant happen, as the PISTOL amendment to the constitution has a five year window for governments to use the property for the stated purpose (in this case, highway expansion) – if it doesn’t the original land owner can reacquire the property by paying the government back. In this case, dumb limitations hamstring government to do its job in a cost-effective manner.