Two of fastest-growing cities in the U.S. lie less than 300 miles apart in the American southwest. Las Vegas and Phoenix, ranked third and seventh respectively in population growth from 2000 to 2012, also happen to be two of the biggest U.S. cities not linked by an interstate highway.
There are those who would like to change that. In fact, Nevada and Arizona recently wrapped up a two-year study that examined the possibility of building Interstate-11 from the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona to the U.S.-Canada border.
“It’s necessary to continue to look at this,” said Sondra Rosenberg, I-11 project manager for the Nevada Department of Transportation. “There’s absolutely justified investment in further study.”
Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales, Ariz., said I-11 could do for transportation in the western United States what I-35 has done for in the middle of North America — create an international trade corridor.
Although the overall goal is broad, linking three countries, Rosenberg said the states are viewing the project in smaller segments. Linking Phoenix and Las Vegas is one of the top priorities, but Nogales to Phoenix also is a focal point.
“It would be a way to get produce from Nogales to Las Vegas a lot quicker,” Jungmeyer said. “Las Vegas is a huge food destination.”
Having a north-south interstate also would expedite shipments that now must often travel to Los Angeles and through congested California highways to make their way north.
“It’s not a good way to move produce,” Jungmeyer said.
Fixing the problem, he said, could take decades.
Rosenberg said there are constraints that must be overcome, including environmental concerns and land ownership issues. She said that makes it likely that building I-11 would involve upgrading existing roads to interstate standards rather than designing and implementing new totally new construction, which would require even more significant resources and involve more property complications.
That means the creation of I-11 likely would involve upgrading U.S. 93 between Phoenix and Las Vegas and U.S. 95 from Vegas to Reno.
“U.S. 93 is not true freeway,” Rosenberg said. “As you go through small towns, there are still stoplights and stop signs.”
U.S. 93 used to be a two-lane road with passing lanes, but the highway has been gradually improved and expanded in Arizona, and there are plans to make it a four-lane divided highway. The road still has access control issues, she said.