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November, 2012, Page 38
Map by Nicole Roegner
Will Phoenix and Las Vegas get their long-awaited federal interstate? Bet on it.
Biker and former trucker Kenny Ratliff is a regular on the road to Vegas. He’s driven from Phoenix more than 30 times, sometimes for work but always for pleasure – if only to cruise the Strip and observe its singular wildlife. And he’d go more often, if not for the cumbersome 285-mile drive, with its halting stop-and-go leg in Sun City and pokey interludes through Wickenburg and Kingman.
“I want to hurry up and get there so I can have a few more hours of enjoyment,” Ratliff says. “I just want to go.’’
Ratliff isn’t alone, given that Arizonans traveled to Vegas 3.5 million times last year, according to Las Vegas tourism officials. And that number could grow still, if the proposed Interstate 11 freeway connecting Phoenix and Las Vegas becomes a reality, cutting the no-bathroom-break five-hour drive by an hour or more.
The early blueprint looks like this: The I-11 would start in Casa Grande and jog northwest, in effect bypassing Phoenix. Travelers from Phoenix would catch the freeway in Buckeye where it intersects Interstate 10, near the Hassayampa River, then continue north to the existing U.S. Highway 93 at Wickenburg. A beefed-up 93 – widened and improved to meet Interstate standards – would shoot travelers past Kingman, where they would bypass the Hoover Dam at the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. In Nevada, yet another bypass would sprint them past Boulder City, allowing them to painlessly float into Vegas and the Cirque du Soleil show of their choice.
Phoenix and Las Vegas are the two largest metropolitan areas in the country not directly connected by an interstate. Supporters for I-11 are lined up in both states, notably Governor Jan Brewer and sports mogul and West Valley developer Jerry Colangelo. In addition to jobs and economic development, planners see I-11 as a crucial last link to creating a continuous interstate corridor stretching from Canada to Mexico.
“If you really boil down the benefits of I-11 to its essence, it is that connectivity to four or five interstate systems,’’ says Steve Betts, chairman of the I-11 Coalition, a group of Arizona and Nevada advocates.
The interstate would also be an obvious boon for the growing burg of Buckeye. Adding a highly-trafficked interstate freeway “will create construction jobs and corridor development,” Buckeye Mayor Jackie Meck says. “It will create synergy in the West Valley.’’
The much-touted Douglas Ranch in Buckeye would also get a boost. The interstate would likely cut through the privately-owned property, a sprawling mixed use project planned by El Dorado Holdings and Colangelo’s JDM Partners.
I-11 could be a game changer for Wickenburg too, if it intersects with U.S. 60 on the town’s largely rural west side, says Town Manager Josh Wright.
“This is going to be immensely important in terms of how we’re going to grow and evolve,” Wright says. “Wickenburg has this great reputation as a classic western community. But at the same time, we want a stable job base.’’
In June, the I-11 received official federal designation, a key step to moving forward; also this year, the Arizona Department of Transportation and its Nevada counterpart commissioned a two-year feasibility study. Still, don’t look for the interstate anytime soon. Funding is a major hurdle given shrinking federal funds.
It could be two decades before I-11 is built, ADOT says. Betts is more hopeful, but acknowledges, “We have many years before we see a spade in the dirt.’’
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