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U.S. 95 route part of potential Interstate 11 corridor

CARSON CITY — Routes through western Nevada that could become part of an Interstate 11 freeway corridor linking Mexico and Canada have made the first cut for future study, local officials and the public were told last Wednesday by transportation officials.

Routes through central and eastern Nevada that would run to Elko or Wells did not make the final list of potential routes for the proposed Intermountain West Corridor, although one of the preferred alternatives would see the freeway head northeast from Fernley to Winnemucca and then on to Idaho close to Boise.

An Intermountain West Corridor is being evaluated as part of the proposed Interstate 11 project that would connect Phoenix and Las Vegas, but is many years away from reality.

The top-rated route north from Las Vegas would follow U.S. Highway 95 to Fernley, head west to Reno then up U.S. Highway 395 into southern Oregon. The second option would follow U.S. 95 to Fernley, but then head northeast through Winnemucca to Idaho. The third option closely mirrors the first but would depart from U.S. 95 at Tonopah, heading west to U.S. 395 in California and running through Douglas County and Carson City before moving through Reno north into southern Oregon.

Criteria to evaluate the different routes included economics, land use and ownership, community acceptance and cost, among others. The Reno-Fernley area has substantially more economic activity than the Elko-Wells region in the eastern part of the state.

Sondra Rosenberg, who is heading up the review for the Nevada Department of Transportation in cooperation with the Arizona Department of Transportation, said that following the public meetings, the Northern Nevada Future Connectivity Segment Assessment Report will be completed.

Future studies will be needed to analyze in greater detail the three recommended corridors, she said. Public comments, which could change the rankings of the various alternatives, will be accepted through Nov. 1.

“There is this big gap in the interstate system in Nevada in terms of north-south connectivity,” Rosenberg said.

There is no such link between Interstate 5 in California, Oregon and Washington and Interstate 15 in Utah, a 600-mile gap, she said.

“This study is really looking at what is the demand for an additional high-capacity corridor,” Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg said California officials have indicated support for the new corridor because of the heavy use of I-5, and there is also interest from Boise about the route option that would run through Idaho. A new corridor in Nevada would provide a new transportation alternative while providing economic opportunities for Nevada, she said. The proposed interstate, long a hope of area officials, is still years away from becoming a reality, though. If it does happen, it would eventually connect Phoenix to Las Vegas, starting at the Mexican border and continuing all the way to Canada.

As Mexico becomes a bigger trading partner, transporting goods becomes more important. California’s freeways are already too busy to handle much more. “We think this trading activity is going to go somewhere. We’d like it to come here,” she said.

Interstate 11 would come into Nevada from Arizona, use the new Hoover Dam Bypass bridge, then skirt south of Boulder City. That portion, known as the Boulder City Bypass, is already underway. But routes through Las Vegas are still up in the air.

Five routes coming out of the Boulder City Bypass and hooking up to U.S. 95 are still in the running: Connect to the beltway into northwest Las Vegas, then meet up with U.S. 95 north of town; stay on U.S. 95, continue through the Spaghetti Bowl, and head out of town; stay on U.S. 95, then connect to Interstate 15 and continue north; go east of Henderson and Sunrise Mountain, continue north through Lake Mead National Recreation Area, swing around the back side of Nellis Air Force Base and head west on a newly constructed road at the base of the Sheep Mountains until hooking back up with U.S. 95;  or take that new eastern route and swing left onto the northern leg of the 215 Beltway to U.S. 95.

Rosenberg said each of the alternative routes through Southern Nevada has pros and cons, whether they be potential cost, environmental concerns, or increasing traffic on already burdened valley roads. But they each have their advantages, too, she said.

For example, the route through town would increase traffic, but it would have little environmental impact. On the other hand, the route east of town would likely lead to less traffic through town because trucks would use it, but it could create environmental problems.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Richard Lake contributed to this report.