Big dreams of a four-lane highway between Las Vegas and Phoenix have run into a small snag. There’s no federal money to start the project.
Truckers, tourists, casual road-trippers, and Southern Nevada’s business community have long lamented that Las Vegas and Phoenix are the two largest U.S. metro areas without an interstate connection.
Now, after years of planning, the federal fund that pays for freeways is bankrupt, and a hyper-partisan Congress with other budgetary fish to fry seems apathetic.
The Highway Trust Fund has been shrinking for decades. The account is upside-down by about $20B per year, in part because Congress hasn’t raised the federal gas tax rate of 18.4 cents for more than two decades. The fund has also suffered from competition with other federal priorities, including investing in fuel-efficiency standards. (A revised funding formula is long overdue.)
A short-term fund fix is possible, but according to a recent Las Vegas Sun story, the Congressional cavalry probably isn’t coming any time soon. If so, Southern Nevada’s efforts to improve transportation linkages critical to the continued economic growth and development of the region may be at a standstill.
RCG Economics asked Governor Sandoval’s office for a comment. We received the following statement from his Press Secretary, Tyler Klimas:
“The I-11 corridor is a crucial infrastructure project that will serve transportation, economic development, and commerce needs in Southern Nevada. The Governor has supported this project from the very beginning and will continue to make sure the State of Nevada does everything it can to prepare and support the future corridor.
He recently sent a letter to Nevada’s congressional delegation urging them to take swift action to reauthorize the federal highway bill. Should this bill expire, not only will the I-11 project be affected, but the state’s entire transportation system will suffer.
The Governor has asked Congress to replenish the Highway Trust Fund so as to ensure the uninterrupted continuation of critical transportation projects.”
It hasn’t yet been determined how I-11 would be routed through Southern Nevada. A $2.5 million study to consider routes and estimate costs for the highway is expected to be completed by the end of the year. While state officials have no firm cost estimates, some experts have pegged it at between $4 billion and $10 billion.
Will Congress come through? Or Nevada eventually end up borrowing some or all of the needed funds, as we did for Project Neon in downtown Las Vegas? RCG encourages our Congressional delegation, local and state elected officials, and business leaders to stay engaged in finishing this economically important infrastructure project.