Interstate 11 - The Missing Link

Proposed Interstate would connect Southern Nevada to an economic lifeline

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce is supporting efforts to develop the proposed I-11, an interstate highway that would connect Phoenix and Las Vegas to major shipping ports in Southern California and Mexico.

Las Vegas and Phoenix are the only two sizable cities in the nation without a direct interstate connection. Supporting this measure could lead to dramatic, positive changes for Nevada, including new job creation and a significant means for diversifying and strengthening the local economy.

Not only does this connection set the stage for increased tourism ground traffic from our third-largest tourist market, it would also provide full interstate connectivity to I-40, a significant truck line that has the potential to use Las Vegas as a trucking hub. The proposed interstate could also lead to further expansion of manufacturing and distribution centers in Nevada. Las Vegas has the opportunity to strongly compete on a time and cost basis for goods to be distributed to other states.

"There's a reasonable expectation to increase our warehousing capacity," says Dr. Robert Lang, co-director of Brookings Mountain West and director of the Lincy Institute. "That would make us much more competitive for ground-based transportation industries."

Dr. Lang is a long-time proponent of this infrastructure development, noting the potential for reduced travel time of goods and passengers driving from the south and the east to Southern Nevada. He also intimates that such a development could theoretically make northwest Arizona a type of suburb to Las Vegas, creating an expanded metro area that would support increased economic diversification efforts.

"Our problem is, we've been cut off," explains Dr. Lang. "This completes the entire interstate system. It's the missing link – the Las Vegas-Phoenix connection."

Dr. Lang notes that Las Vegas is a gateway to the intermountain west, where drivers are currently traveling far afield from I-40 to connect to I-15 when traveling east to west, the other leg of the proposed I-11 project. "It's ineffective," says Dr. Lang. "It reduces our competitiveness."

Discussion about the possible economic benefits of the proposed I-11 began when the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge opened over the Colorado River at Hoover Dam and re-opened to truck traffic. Construction, paired with post-9-11 restrictions on truck travel over the Dam, caused traffic jams and delays that negatively impacted tourists, commuters and transport drivers. The ramifications of the slowdown prompted the start of serious discussion between transportation officials, business leaders and lawmakers in both Southern Nevada and Arizona.

"We're not just talking about improved traffic," says Dr. Lang. "We're talking about construction jobs – the largest section of displaced workers in Southern Nevada." Dr. Lang notes that additional business opportunities could open up as a result of the new infrastructure, and he sees Las Vegas' tourism market getting a boost, as well.

"Northwest Phoenix has a lot of retirees who could become tourists," says Dr. Lang. "We'd be open to much greater access to a big tourism market. The gaming industry is reliant on ground transportation from California, and now that could be expanded to include Arizona."

Of course, much emphasis has previously been placed on Nevada's leading ground traffic tourism hub, Southern California. The construction of I-11 would potentially improve this traffic as well as provide direct access to Southern California and Mexico ports.

"Las Vegas benefits more than anyone from this," says Tom Skancke, president and founder of the Skancke Company. "As far as economic development, the amount of goods movement from Mexico would be in the millions of tons, which presents a unique opportunity for Las Vegas in areas related to rail, truck and air cargo distribution."

According to Skancke, international air cargo business and international tourism has the potential to increase if Las Vegas becomes a distribution hub.

"We could attract industries around air cargo," explains Skancke. "Multinational companies may begin holding conventions here, buying real estate here. Trucking and rail distribution also creates a dynamic where goods from the Midwest come through Las Vegas as a drop-off point." Skancke says all businesses stand to benefit from the implementation of the proposed I-11 project.

"There would be a whole new industry to create business models around it," explains Skancke. "IT, satellite, commercial real estate development, massive infrastructure, design, planning, administration… across the board in every sector, everyone would benefit from a distribution economy."

The development of I-11 would create the potential for Las Vegas to leverage relationships with shipping ports in Southern California and Mexico. In fact, it's estimated that the project could shape the flow of shipping through the entire southwest region. Estimates indicate that for every dollar spent on interstate funding, $6 is generated in economic revenue.

While some business owners may initially protest the creation of faster ways to bring low-priced, competing imported goods into the U.S. marketplace, Skancke says it's time to look at the positives that come with creating a global economy.

"China is not going to stop manufacturing and the U.S. is not going to stop buying," predicts Skancke. "We need to look for ways to take advantage of an import economy and redirect efforts to partner with importers and create a global economy." Adds Skancke, "The 1992 fall of the Soviet Union opened the world to a marketplace that didn't exist before. Importing is not going to stop."

As proposed, I-11 would include a bypass around Boulder City and would run northwest from Las Vegas along U.S. 95. The proposed highway would also extend southeast toward Phoenix along U.S. 93. I-11 would be the first new interstate constructed since 1985. The proposed routing would be part of the Canamex high priority corridor, which was established under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"Seventy years ago, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce was supporting infrastructure projects," says Skancke. "Infrastructure development has been the number-one job creator in the nation for the past 200 years. We need to keep pressure on our congressional delegation to support this effort."

A Chamber delegation to Washington D.C. in October yielded positive discussion of the project. I-11 will need congressional designation as a federal interstate highway before funding can be secured.