A new interstate highway linking Phoenix and Las Vegas could strengthen the link between two of the fastest growing U.S. cities while becoming a prime route to transport freight from Mexico to Las Vegas and beyond, officials say.
The proposed Interstate 11 would consist of 225 miles of improved U.S. 93 with miles of new freeway around the Phoenix area.
Still to be decided is how to pay for the route. The Phoenix-area bypass alone might cost up to $5 billion and a toll road is being considered along that portion.
Transportation and planning officials say that 40 years is a realistic start date and that the work would happen in phases.
Nothing can happen on the I-11 idea until an environmental study, expected to cost up to $7 million, is done. ArizonaDepartment of Transportation officials said they expect the study to begin within two years.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer recently signed a law allowing the state to enter partnerships with the private sector in what may be the first step in creating toll roads in Arizona.
Some feel that freight haul operators would pay a toll to use an Interstate 11 to bypass Phoenix congestion.
Cities from Wickenburg to Las Vegas support I-11, along with U.S. senators, regional governments, and state and federal transportation agencies.
"There isn't a north-south corridor. It's a very important corridor for the national and even international scene," said Kent Cooper, assistant director of the Nevada Department of Transportation.
The idea for Interstate 11 grew out of a local effort to accommodate projected growth.
In 2005, before the housing meltdown, landowners in cities west of Phoenix armed with development rights swamped the Federal Highway Administration with requests for Interstate 10 interchanges and planners for the Maricopa Association of Governments were called in.
With the Phoenix metropolitan area's population forecast to double by 2050, MAG found that I-10 would need 43 interchanges west of Loop 303 to keep up. The extra traffic would make Arizona's most important highway impassable.
So, MAG studied other options.
In 2008, MAG's Regional Council accepted a first map showing a ribbon of freeway winding north from I-10 near Arizona 85 and stretching toward Wickenburg. It was named the Hassayampa Freeway.
Later this month, MAG's council will vote on a second plan routing the Hassayampa Freeway south from I-10 and then curving east past the Estrella Mountains to reconnect with I-10 near Casa Grande.
The freeway is part of $60 billion in Phoenix-area transportation improvements, including mass transit, that MAG considers necessary in the next half-century.