LAS VEGAS -- Because it takes a strong highway system to help promote safe and efficient commerce, many elected officials, transportation gurus and think tank experts believe it makes sense to build an interstate from Las Vegas to Phoenix.
After all, those are the nation's two largest neighboring metropolitan areas that don't have an interstate connecting them. State lawmakers showed their support in 2010 when they approved a resolution calling on the federal government to build I-11 from Mexico to Canada using portions of the existing U.S. 93 and U.S. 95 corridors.
Their dream became a step closer to reality March 14 when the U.S. Senate, with bipartisan support, approved a $109 billion transportation bill that would make I-11 eligible for federal funding. The bill moved to the House where it faces an uncertain future.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the bill would help create jobs while addressing the nation's weakening infrastructure.
"If there was ever a piece of legislation that should not turn into a partisan fight, this is it," Reid said. "I hope my Republican colleagues in the House will choose to join us in this bipartisan, job-creating effort instead of trying to appease the Tea Party by manufacturing another fight."
Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who also voted for the bill, said: "Commerce is the lifeblood of our nation's economy. This highway bill will allow for long-term planning of Nevada's infrastructure, providing the certainty needed to invest in our state's critical transportation projects. This bill is an example of what can be accomplished when both parties work together to produce results for the American people."
Another proposal that backers say would promote commerce in Southern Nevada is the DesertXpress Enterprises' high-speed train that would shuttle passengers between Las Vegas and Victorville, Calif., at 150 miles an hour. Company officials have said that construction could begin by the end of this year, with completion possible by the end of 2016. It is estimated that a round-trip ticket in 2017 would cost $89, which the company says would make it far less expensive than airfare or even travel by car, when one accounts for wear and tear as well as gas usage.
DesertXpress Enterprises also says its project will create more than 80,000 construction-related jobs, both directly and indirectly, while also reducing pollutant emissions along Interstate 15 by 40 percent. The Las Vegas station would be in the Strip corridor, meaning passengers would have access to taxis, limousines, buses and rental cars.
But the project has at least two public relations hurdles it continues to face. One is that many critics have questioned why the train would only go to Victorville instead of all the way to Los Angeles. The company has said it believes most passengers live close enough to Victorville to make that location worthwhile. There is also potential for the Victorville station to be linked to a future high-speed rail system that would travel to other California cities.
Another hurdle is that the company is seeking a federal loan to finance a substantial portion of the $6.5 billion project. What the future holds for DesertXpress is uncertain if that loan request is denied.
The Great Recession already has caused postponement of another major transportation initiative, pursuit of a new commercial airport 30 miles south of McCarran International Airport in the Ivanpah Valley. Clark County in 2010 indefinitely postponed additional funding for an environmental impact statement for that site until economic conditions improve.
There has also been some community discussion about the need for a light-rail system within the Las Vegas Valley but such talk has never been followed up with any serious action, even though most other major cities in the West already have some form of rail transit.
What Las Vegas can boast as far as modern transportation is McCarran, which was the nation's seventh busiest airport in 2010, when it served more than 10.3 million passengers. That is a strong selling point for businesses that want to connect with clients elsewhere.
Nevada also has the nation's second highest percentage of major roads in good condition and the lowest percentage of structurally deficient bridges. Those, too, are selling points for companies that transport cargo by truck.