By Eric Jay Toll for The Arizona Builder’s Exchange
Visions of a north-south superhighway through Arizona and Nevada and linking commercial traffic between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada moved one step closer to reality late last week. Tucked neatly into MAP-21, the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” transportation bill signed by President Obama on June 29, are funds to study a route for I-11. The much-talked-about interstate highway is envisioned as part of a border-to-border road system called the CANAMEX Corridor.
Connecting Phoenix and Las Vegas is the first priority for the route study. The inclusion in the law means that design and engineering are also moving up the priority scale. I-11 is the first new interstate study since 2005. It could, officials say, take 10 to 20 years before the highway is actually built.
The first phase links the two cities from I-10 to I-15. Developers along the Hassayampa River corridor included rights-of-way in master planning Buckeye and west county communities. The Hasssayampa Freeway would run from I-10 near Casa Grande, south of the Estrella Mountains and west of the White Tank Mountains before landing at Wickenburg. The run to Las Vegas would generally follow U.S. 93 crossing the Colorado River on the new bridge at Hoover Dam.
The Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) is set to award $2.5M in conceptual route study contracts to determine if the road is feasible, its route, cost and defining environmental and economic impacts.
Support for the project comes from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce—which made the freeway its most important federal project—to Arizona business and government leaders. The route concept study was supported by lawmakers in both Arizona and Nevada. Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) both pushed the effort along with other regional transportation needs.
Other activists have expressed concern about the cost and impact of the highway moving through the deserts of Western Arizona. The concept itself, as well as its cost and environmental effects are going to be highly controversial when the route concept report is completed for public comment.
Arizona’s economic future has significant competition beyond the state borders. Improvements to the Panama Canal make it possible for giant cargo ships to bypass west coast ports and land directly in Texas for Midwest and Eastern Seaboard access. Mexico is working on infrastructure bypassing Arizona on a route to Texas.
The Union Pacific rail classification center proposed for Pinal County combined with the CANAMEX corridor provides an opportunity to collect and transfer cargo quickly from the west coast to Midwest and Northeast markets. Moving freight through Arizona is crucial for the state’s long-term economic growth. In a related story, Pinal County officials see $26B in positive economic impact when a multi-modal logistics center is created over the next 20 years near Red Rock and Picacho. Failure to get the infrastructure in place now will allow other markets to gain competitive advantage to Arizona’s loss.