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Nevada governor wants to make new interstate a presidential priority


The proposed Interstate 11 corridor (Connecting Arizona and Nevada – Delivering Opportunities coalition)

Presidential candidates interested in winning delegates from early primary states usually follow certain, state-specific rules: Don’t bash ethanol in Iowa. Remember which Concord was a Revolutionary War site, and which is the New Hampshire capital. Be extremely careful when talking about the Confederate flag in South Carolina.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, whose state will once again host an early presidential contest in 2016, wants to add one more to the list: Support a new interstate between two of the Southwest’s largest cities.

At the National Governors Association meeting this weekend in Washington, Sandoval told Stephens Media he would urge presidential contenders to support funding for Interstate 11, the proposed corridor between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The cities are the two largest adjacent metropolises in America not connected by an interstate. Congress designated I-11 as a top priority in 2012, but they didn’t appropriate the money necessary to build what transportation planners say is a needed alternative to Interstate 5 to the west and Interstate 15 to the east.

“That’s the message I will have coming up in ’16, that those who are interested in Nevada need to be aware of our infrastructure needs, and that’s a big one,” Sandoval told Stephens’ Steve Tetreault.

Building a stretch of road between Phoenix and Las Vegas would seem, on its face, as a pretty parochial issue. But supporters say the interstate would help bolster trade routes between Canada and Mexico and boost the economic prospects of long-starved communities in rural Arizona and Nevada, where unemployment rates are still far higher than state and regional averages. Every dollar spent on building I-11 would return six dollars in economic revenue, according to Rep. Steven Horsford, a freshman Democrat from North Las Vegas who supports the project.

Eventually, the interstate could even connect Las Vegas with Nevada’s other population center, Reno. At the moment, those who drive the 438 miles between the two cities have to travel along U.S. 95, which narrows to two lanes for most of the way. Building an interstate between the two cities could shave an hour off the travel time.

Arizona and Nevada haven’t made official estimates of how much the project could cost, but building the 300 miles of roadways between Phoenix and Las Vegas could cost between $5 billion and $10 billion. The Highway Trust Fund, which has built almost 43,000 miles of interstate since 1956, may not be able to afford that cost; paid for by fuel taxes, the fund is expected to fall short of its obligations by 2015, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

But some of the money could come from the states. The Clark County Commission voted last year to raise local gas taxes by 10 cents per gallon over the next three years to pay for an initial stretch of highway, a 17-mile section bypassing Boulder City.

So, presidential contenders, take note: When you travel to Nevada, make sure your talking points are in order. Nevada voters want to hear two things: That you oppose storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, and that you’d like them to have a brand-new freeway heading south — and eventually north — out of Las Vegas.

Reid Wilson covers national politics and Congress for The Washington Post. He is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tip sheet on politics.

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