KINGMAN - The future of Interstate 11 boils down to funding, including $88 million to build an interchange at U.S. Highway 93 and Interstate 40 in Kingman - and that's not going to happen any time soon, Arizona Department of Transportation district engineer Mike Kondelis said.
The existing interchange doesn't have the capacity to support daily traffic and is the last remaining bottleneck in the I-11 corridor, which would connect Phoenix to Las Vegas and become a major trade route from Mexico to Canada.
During peak hours, an estimated 1,045 vehicles make the turn from U.S. 93 onto eastbound I-40, with cars and trucks often backed up to Coyote Pass. About 950 vehicles exit I-40 onto northbound U.S. 93.
The long-term plan is to build a new road from I-40 just past Clack Canyon to the north, traveling behind businesses and homes and joining back with U.S. 93 at Coyote Pass, Kondelis said during a March 16 presentation to the Conservative Republican Club of Kingman.
In the meantime, ADOT plans to add a free-flow, right-turn lane from I-40 westbound onto U.S. 93 northbound, as well as a "trap" right-turn lane from Beale Street onto I-40 eastbound. The lane would be closed to through traffic underneath the freeway.
ADOT's traffic model predicts that the proposed improvements will result in acceptable intersection levels of service through 2026.
The goal is to have a modern highway between Phoenix and Las Vegas, the longest stretch (nearly 300 miles) between two major U.S. cities without an interstate.
It can be a tough balance, as constrained funding simply cannot meet all transportation needs around the state, Kondelis said.
"As far as Interstate 11, until we get our funding back, we're not going to get there," the engineer said. "Maybe with some future transportation bill, they'll say, 'Here's X millions of dollars. Go build it.'"
Most funding for ADOT projects comes from the Highway User Revenue Fund, or HURF, which allocates 19 cents from each gallon of gasoline sold for federal tax and almost 18 cents for state tax.
Arizona's portion of HURF gets divided among 15 counties, with the lion's share going to Maricopa and Pima counties' associations of government (MAG, PAG).
About 2 percent of HURF funds are used to build pedestrian walkways, bike paths and other improvements not associated with the highways, Kondelis noted.
Widening U.S. 93
ADOT started a $12.5 million project in February to widen U.S. 93 north of Wickenburg to four lanes, with completion expected in 2016.
"We've done a lot of work to make this a four-lane highway," Kondelis said. "We first focused on a section between the Santa Maria River and Wikieup. Those of you who drove that section remember all the white crosses on that road, all those people who tried passing semis."
Safety has been the driving force behind a series of ADOT projects to convert U.S. 93 into a divided four-lane highway, he said.
Since 1998, ADOT has invested about $350 million to upgrade the U.S. 93 corridor, which runs from Kingman to the Nevada state line and from Wickenburg to I-40. A 23-mile segment of I-40 east of Kingman connects U.S. 93 north and south.
Kondelis said I-11 has a number of possible routes south of Phoenix to Nogales, but the route will remain the same north to Las Vegas.
"The section from Wickenburg to Kingman on up to Boulder City is pretty much identified as I-11," he said. "We have that designation through all the studies we've done. There's no need to build infrastructure when we have it already."
A couple of notable differences between U.S. 93 and I-40 are access control and wide shoulders, the engineer noted. The biggest problem is accessing U.S. 93, building interchanges and frontage roads to connect with cities, he said.
"We had had that vision in the early '90s," Kondelis said. "We've created an access management plan. We know where the interchanges are going."
There's been a lot of talk about the Boulder City bypass and it's going to become a reality soon, he added. The $283 million project is expected to break ground in April.
As ADOT begins making plans for improvements to the state highway system over the next five years, the major focus will be on preserving existing infrastructure to ensure that it remains in good condition, while providing a reliable transportation network for drivers.
The five-year plan serves as a blueprint for future projects and designates how much local, state and federal funding is allocated for those projects over the next five years to improve the state's transportation infrastructure. This includes highways, bridges, transit and aviation.
Kondelis said 60 percent of funding from the five-year program goes toward highway preservation, 11 percent to highway expansion such as added lanes and interchanges, and 29 percent to highway modernization such as signs and passing lanes.
Limited funding amid growing statewide transportation needs continues to be the biggest challenge over the next five years.
Fewer dollars dedicated to transportation is a result of less revenue from traditional sources of transportation funding, like the state gas tax and vehicle license tax. The state gas tax is currently 18 cents per gallon and has not been increased for more than 20 years.
About $285 million is allocated to fund road projects outside of Maricopa and Pima counties, with $260 million going toward preservation and maintenance and $25 million for new capacity and major projects.
"That sounds like a lot of money, but it doesn't get spread too far," Kondelis said.