Interstate 11 project looks for traction

Nevada has completed a 2.5-mile stretch of Interstate 11 between Boulder City and Henderson.

Nevada Department of Transportation/Courtesy

Nevada has completed a 2.5-mile stretch of Interstate 11 between Boulder City and Henderson.

LAS VEGAS (AP) – It's only a modest 2.5 miles of a long-term plan to better connect Las Vegas and Phoenix – the two largest cities in the U.S. not currently linked by an interstate – and a longer-term dream to link Mexico, the U.S and Canada. But last month's opening of the first local phase of Interstate 11 between Henderson and Boulder City was a culmination of decades of planning and brought into focus how far there is to go.

The portion of the route that was once known as the Boulder City Bypass will divert the majority of traffic – including tractor-trailers – from traveling through Boulder City via U.S. 93.

The effect is mixed for the quiet town. Proponents are pleased with the prospect of less traffic backup. Opponents fear businesses could whither with fewer travelers making their way through Boulder City's restaurant and shopping district.

What was debated locally for years, however, pales in comparison to the ultimate vision of I-11, stretching from Mexico to Canada, outlined in the North American Free Trade Agreement NAFTA and identified in the CANAMEX Corridor.

The I-11 project incorporates multiple stretches of existing highways, including interstates 19 and 10, U.S. 93 and U.S. 95.

The 5-year $305 billion Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, signed into law in December 2015, provides a 15 percent increase to highway funding and 18 percent increase to transit. Nevada will receive a total of $1.9 billion over five years or roughly $385 million a year. That marks a $170 million total increase over the previous funding levels to the state.

Funding for the initial phases was made up mostly of money from the Federal Highway Administration's Advance Construction program. The program gives the Nevada Department of Transportation the option to be reimbursed up to $291 million, or almost 92 percent of project-related costs, from its future federal highway funding apportionments.

The first two phases are also funded by $22 million in Fuel Revenue Indexing (FRI) funds from Clark County, along with $5 million in state monies.

NDOT's Interstate 11 Phase 1 southbound lanes opened Aug. 15. The entire $83 million 2.5-mile first phase should be fully drivable by late December.

The project calls for a four-lane concrete interstate freeway between Foothill Drive in Henderson and Silverline Road in Boulder City with a full diamond interchange at Railroad Pass.

The interchange includes a loop ramp and a 600-foot two-lane flyover bridge from southbound I-11 to eastbound U.S. 93 toward Boulder City.

The project's visual centerpiece is a 1,200-foot-long, 28-foot-tall concrete retaining wall with multicolored graphics and steel figures and objects that illustrate scenes from the construction of Hoover Dam.

"It reflects the region's social, cultural, and economic history, acting as an iconic graphic gateway to Boulder City," NDOT spokesman Tony Illia said.

Phase 1 also reconnects the railroad tracks made unusable by the completion of U.S. 93 with a 360-foot bridge that allows the freeway to pass underneath. A steel pedestrian bridge connecting the River Mountains Loop and Henderson trail systems is planned.