There is a plan getting scant notice in this area making its way through Congress that could change the fortunes of Nye County. The change could be for the better in many ways, or for the worse, depending on your point of view.
The envisioned Interstate 11, a freeway connecting Las Vegas in the south to I-80 and Reno in the north, with its path cutting through nearly 200 miles of Nye County, is slowly gaining traction.
While the immediate focus is funding and building the freeway between Phoenix and Las Vegas, the two largest adjacent cities without that connection, the longer-term vision is the path to Reno.
The Nevada Department of Transportation decided in September 2014 to designate the U.S. Highway 95 corridor as the supported route to connect I-11 to I-80 north of Nye County.
As stated in the story running on today’s front page, the proposed route designation is part of an authorization bill Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, which key federal lawmakers were able to reach a compromise on this week as part of a five-year transportation bill.
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., described the I-11 provisions in the act a “major win” for the state, adding it will bring, among other things, “economic development.”
Rep. Cresent Hardy, the freshman GOP lawmaker who represents Nye County, is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who served on the conference committee that produced the compromise bill. According to the article, he said the agreement “underlines the need for long-term transportation planning and improvement projects.”
However, the actual I-11 freeway passing through Nye County is at least 10 years away, probably longer, according to Tony Illia, spokesman for NDOT.
While all of this is true, I’m still wondering how this will impact the county between Clark and Washoe, the two that seem to be at the heart of this push.
When this gets laid out and built, if it is 10 years from now or 20, this week’s agreement means the new freeway will meet interstate standards including being at least four lanes wide and a divider. Minimum lane width is 12 feet, outside paved shoulder of 10 feet and inside paved shoulder of four feet minimum.
Why am I sharing this math?
As anyone who has recently driven U.S. 95 to Tonopah knows (as I did Sunday and Monday), the highway currently cuts through the heart of Beatty, Goldfield and Tonopah. In Beatty, the highway comes to a complete stop before turning right and continuing through town. In Goldfield, it is a two-lane road that curves twice, running alongside a series of structures historic preservationists would strap themselves to to preserve.
The new freeway would either cut a wider path through those towns, which is highly unlikely, or bypass them completely. Bypass isn’t always good, either.
Work is underway outside Boulder City on a 17-mile bypass that is the first construction since I-11 received its designation.
Business and tourism leaders are divided on the impact the bypass will have on that town of 15,000. The traffic that runs from Arizona and Hoover Dam, past Lake Mead National Recreation Area and then through part of Boulder City will now be able to use the bypass, skipping that town altogether. How much of Boulder City’s tourism tourism dollars come from visitors who just happened upon the town? How much will the gas stations and businesses along the current highway be impacted? Will some close after the bypass opens?
These are long-term questions business owners and tourism proponents of Beatty, Goldfield and Tonopah should be asking themselves today, instead of waiting for the future of 10 years from now to be upon them.
It is important to note that while Heller’s I-11 extension legislation was part of the latest transportation act, there is no specific funding for the project.
The transportation departments of Nevada and Arizona are halfway through a two-year study examining the corridor through that southern state. That will help determine I-11’s location, makeup and alignment through to Phoenix.
As much as I enjoyed going through Wikieup and Wickenburg on my way to see the Cardinals a couple of weekends ago, I really would like to make faster time.
NDOT has yet to determine the hardest part, to them, how and where I-11 passes through Las Vegas.
When they get the Arizona piece in place, and figure out the Las Vegas route, state and federal officials will then turn their attention to the rural Nevada route.
Of course, all this depends, as Illia told me Thursday, on continued “political will, funding availability and prioritization.”
I guess one option is we can all sit around and wait and see what happens, or help carve the path for Nye’s future.
I know which I’d choose.
Arnold M. Knightly is the editor of the Pahrump Valley Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @KnightlyGrind