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Future I-11 Impact on the State’s Economy

Op-Ed by Steve Betts, Chairman, CAN-DO I-11 Coalition

Steve Betts

While it may seem like most of our economy moves through the Internet, billions of dollars still travel along the ground. Arizona is poised to capture a greater share of those dollars by improving our transportation infrastructure with the creation of a new interstate.

In 1995, Congress designated the CANAMEX Trade Corridor to create a seamless and efficient roadway network for the transportation of goods, services and information between Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Nearly $920 billion of trade flowed between Canada, Mexico and the United States in 2010, despite the lack of that seamless transportation system in the intermountain West. Currently, the official route starts its southern U.S. portion in Nogales, Arizona and covers two interstates (I-19 and I-10) and one state route (SR93) on its way to Las Vegas. Truckers wishing to bypass this route have limited choices for going north, clearly evident on the often congested I-17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff.

With the recent passage of the Federal Highway Transportation Bill, Arizona has the opportunity to create a new option–one that positions Arizona as a gateway to the intermountain West, creating an additional north-south transportation corridor to connect the Southwest with the ports of the entire Pacific coast.

This new route, Interstate 11, shifts freight traffic around the metropolitan Phoenix area and directly to the new Mike O’Callaghan Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, itself a bypass for traversing the Hoover Dam on the way to Las Vegas. I-11 creates a streamlined route from Phoenix to Las Vegas, the only two neighboring cities with populations over one million people that do not have a direct interstate connection.

But the I-11 is not simply a road. It’s the final missing piece in the West’s transportation system. It is also a catalyst for industry, sure to attract manufacturing and transportation businesses looking for easy access to the nation’s interstate network.

Arizona’s proximity to the ports of California and Mexico makes it an ideal location for an inland port. According to a 2008 study by PMSA, an independent, not-for-profit shipping association, more than 40 percent of containerized imports enter the U.S. through California ports, and nearly 30 percent of the country’s exports depart through them.

Those goods are often slowed by the inadequacy of California’s I-5 to handle today’s current traffic volume. The I-11 will act as a reliever to I-5 by connecting the same main five east-west interstates (I-10, I-14, I-15, I-80 and I-84) to create a north-south transportation corridor through the intermountain West.

Moving goods more efficiently between Mexico and the United States will increase economic activity with our state’s largest trading partner, a relationship that accounts for $26 billion of imports and exports.

The Interstate 11 Coalition is working with the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), the Arizona Department of Transportation and officials in Nevada to turn plans for I-11 into a job-generating reality for Arizona and the entire Southwest. Now that the Federal Highway Transportation Bill is approved, a transportation study is commencing that takes a comprehensive look at I-11, its feasibility, possible routes, environmental impact and funding. We hope for a clear road ahead to create the construction jobs necessary to build the interstate and to provide a path for additional industries to locate and grow in Arizona.

Originally Published as Premium Content in the Phoenix Business Journal on August 17, 2012.  Reprinted with permission from the Phoenix Business Journal and Steve Betts.