A policy brief released this month says state transportation officials should consider routing the proposed Interstate-11 through eastern Nevada, not the western part of the state.
That’s something state transportation officials say they have already done.
Arthur Nelson, professor of urban planning at the University of Arizona, authored the report for the Brookings Mountain West institute at UNLV.
Nelson said planners should reconsider the options for the interstate. I-11 is expected to connect Mexico with Canada though Nevada. It already connects Phoenix, Ariz. to Las Vegas.
Where the interstate goes from there remains to be seen – although, state transportation officials say numerous meetings and a massive report identified U.S. 95 to become part of I-11.
This Is Reno reported in 2018 Humboldt County wanted the route as well. Humboldt County Manager Dave Mendiola said in 2018, “We feel it is also imperative that we connect southern Idaho (Boise Valley and the greater Treasure Valley) to northern Nevada. The southern Idaho regional economy has been one of the fastest growing in the nation over the past five years.”
The City of Reno also discussed having the route connect with U.S. 395 and I-580. No major movement has been made on the project north of Las Vegas.
Nevada Department of Transportation officials completed its study of routes in late 2018 and concluded by recommending the route go through western Nevada. Where, specifically, in western Nevada remains to be determined.
“The analysis for the Northern Nevada Future Connectivity Corridor (Las Vegas to northern Nevada state border) recommended pursuing a western alignment, connecting to I‐ 80, as opposed to more central or eastern options,” the state report notes.
But Nelson said more consideration should be given to having I-11 on the eastern part of the state.
“Lack of connectivity in much of eastern Nevada hinders economic development,” he wrote. “Located roughly halfway between Salt Lake City and Reno on I-80 with no interstate connections north or especially south to Las Vegas, one of the nation’s most dynamic metropolitan areas, leaves this region isolated.”
He further said taking the route through Ely and connecting with Elko will be less expensive than having I-11 go through Reno.
“Inasmuch as the I-11-U.S. 93 route is less expensive and the federal government may fund up to 92 percent of the cost, it is difficult to imagine a more important economic development investment in lagging eastern Nevada economies than I-11,” Nelson wrote.
Eastern Nevada, he added, “deserves to share in Nevada’s prosperity.”
NDOT officials appeared perplexed by Nelson’s report. They said plans for I-11 have already been considered through extensive outreach to Nevada communities.
A federal transportation bill, they said, suggests I-11 should follow U.S. Route 95.
“The northern extension within this Congressional designation defined the ‘Intermountain West Corridor’ of I-11 to ‘generally follow U.S. 95 from Las Vegas to I-80,’” said NDOT’s Meg Ragonese. “While NDOT continues development of the Congressionally-designated future I-11 alignment, we also remain dedicated to promoting transportation mobility and safety across the state, including in eastern Nevada.
“In fact, over the coming four years, NDOT and local transportation partners will dedicate more than $150 million to transportation improvements across eastern Nevada counties of Elko, White Pine and Lincoln,” she added.
Those improvements include reconstruction of downtown Ely highways and drainage improvements to reduce flooding.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011, where he completed a dissertation on social media, journalism and crisis communications. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.