An Infrastructure Proposal Where Everyone Gets it Wrong

Since I am on the topic of infrastructure today, let me discuss a project close to home

A major interstate highway must be built between Phoenix and Las Vegas to keep up with the region’s rapid population growth and to facilitate global trade, says a report released jointly Friday by transportation officials in Arizona and Nevada.

The 105-page report offered justification for constructing an Interstate 11, a multibillion dollar project to improve the link between the two metropolitan areas.

The report sets the stage for preliminary route, design and environmental studies ahead of any decision to build I-11, the nation’s most ambitious interstate project in a generation.

As envisioned, the project would convert U.S. 93 into a four-lane divided highway from Las Vegas to Wickenburg, taking advantage of the new Hoover Dam Bypass bridge.

I drive this road all the time, and I have never encountered any congestion.  A lot of it is already four lane divided, and the portions that are not move quite fast.  There is one town (1) between Las Vegas and Wickenburg on the two-lane section that requires one to slow down and has, I think, one stoplight.   I consistently average 75 miles an hour on the road.  Sure, it would be nice if it were an interstate all the way, but the only real problem is the congestion in the outskirts of Phoenix, and that is already being addressed with a new loop freeway.

How can you confirm this makes no sense?  Because neither AZ nor NV are spending their own money on this.  This is basically a marketing proposal to obtain federal funds.  If we actually had to spend our own state money on our own highway, I can't imagine anyone making it a priority over other local demands.  But if the Feds will spend money.....

And as dumb as this idea is, the opposition quoted in the article is even dumber, which is probably why this kind of project actually gets approved.  One group of geniuses, not identified, oppose the plan because they want a bullet train instead.  Yeah, that's the ticket -- there is not enough traffic to fill a two-lane highway and Southwest offers hour long flights for $95, so let's build a dedicated high speed rail line.  This is the eternal Las Vegas fantasy, that someone will spend billions to build high speed rail to whisk folks to their casinos.

Finally, there is the environmental argument:

Environmental advocates like the Sierra Club object to paving hundreds of miles of virgin desert. The area west of the White Tanks is largely open space, with a few isolated communities. Planners say the area could swell in population to 2.5 million, with the help of the freeway.

“We still think it’s a bad idea,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club in Arizona. “The freeway is not needed. It‘s time to look at other ways to look at our transportation needs.”

Opponents say I-11 will promote sprawl at a time when Arizonans are driving less.

I don't think widening of a road from 2-4 lanes is really "paving hundreds of miles of virgin desert", though it is funny to me that the same people who said this likely support enormous solar projects that do just that.  Further, anyone concerned with sprawl being promoted along the route have probably never driven on it.  The definition of "sprawl" is almost impossible to pin down, but I don't see people suddenly building suburbs around Wikieup (home of the single traffic light referenced earlier).  This is a freaking deserted road and people are no more likely to move here because the road is wider than they are to live along I-40 between Flagstaff and Albuquerque (converted to an Interstate from 2-lane Route 66 years ago) .  If you do drive to Vegas, look for someone to offer a prop bet on the population swelling to 2.5 million and take the under.

Seriously, why can't anyone say in print the real problem here -- it is an expensive waste of money to upgrade a highway that has no congestion problems whatsoever and is simply a bid by state government employees to grab some federal highway funds to keep ADOT administrators and engineers employed.

I am driving this highway a week from Monday.   I will try to take some pictures of all the congestion.

Update:  I did the 299 miles from my house to the hotel on the strip in exactly 4.5 hours.  This includes a 15 minutes stop for gas and snacks as well as navigating from my home to the freeway in Phoenix and through Las Vegas traffic around the strip.  I averaged 66 miles per hour, including the stops and traffic and neighborhood streets.


  1. Morlock Publishing:

    > One group of geniuses, not identified, oppose the plan because they want a bullet train instead.

    No half measures! I propose a 99% hard vacuum evacuated tunnel bored on a geodesic tangent through the Earth's crust.

    We need to stay competitive with the Chinese, after all.

    Also: multiplier!

  2. Tom Lindmark:

    It's all about real estate. BizJournal 2012: Real estate developers and home builders are big backers of the highway to Vegas. Some of those interests have development plans that would benefit from a major new highway being built through the Arizona desert. Some of those projects have been stalled by the economic slide.

    Arizona real estate interests such as El Dorado Holdings Inc., Jerry Colangelo’s JDM Partners LLC, Plaza Cos., DMB Associates, former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson’s Old World Homes, Pederson Group Inc. and Pulte Homes all support the interstate. El Dorado Director Mike Cronin, one of the private sector’s lead I-11 advocates, said he’s open to the toll road idea.

  3. anaanners:

    Wikieup has a traffic light?

  4. oneteam:

    The only time I've experienced congestion on that road was during construction that has widened the road and put a bridge in somewhere around Wikieup. Can't remember exactly where.

    What is needed, however, are bypasses around Wickenburg, Wikieup and Kingman. And of course, better roads getting out of Phoenix. It takes me over an hour just to get out of the Phoenix metro area from the SE valley. And the NW part of Phoenix is the worse part of that trip. When 303 is completed, it'll be better.

  5. Jorge:

    I've driven that road many times. I think I once had to slow down to about forty mph while following a wide load until I reached the next passing lane.

  6. John O.:

    US 93 has been gradually upgraded from the 2 lane highway that existed from Morristown to I-40 over the last 25 years. There was a time when the congestion was bad in few small towns but ADOT began a project to gradual upgrade the highway over time using money they would save instead of waste on other useless projects. The serious proposal to make it I-11 started after the NAFTA trade highways were being planned through Maricopa County and instead of taking US 60 from Wickenburg to Phoenix, the NAFTA highway was routed through Vulture Mine Road to I-10. The proposal died in the late 1990s because it was redundant and flat out stupid.The urgency to upgrade US 93 isn't there any more because of the highway is in good order and the few areas that are 2 lanes wide are already being planned for upgrading anyway in the near-mid future, regardless of whether or not I-11 gets Congressional funding. It is possible though for ADOT to request Interstate designation from AASHTO and the FHWA entirely on its own but the entire length wouldn't be federal funded.

    There's a reason why there are no Three Digit Interstates in Phoenix because they were never paid for with federal money, funded by local transportation taxes instead, and to have "need" for another interstate makes Arizona become more like New York, which is still trying to complete its section of Interstate 86 across the Southern portion of Upstate New York.

    US 93 is a good highway and its "need" to become I-11 is completely unnecessary and is frankly dumb.

  7. John O.:

    Lemme correct you and point out that a tangent is on the outside of a curve while a chord or secant is on the inside of a curve.

  8. jdgalt:

    I have driven that road too and have found it congested -- but mainly only at the ends. When you reach metro Phoenix you are stuck in 10+ miles of surface street traffic before reaching the nearest loop freeway. I wouldn't mind seeing it upgraded to freeway for that part of the route.

    But I don't see why it should need federal funding, unless the citizens of Phoenix just don't want to build it at all.

  9. norse:

    A good friend of mine spent a few years working for one of the major US environmental consulting agencies. She had a masters in ecology, was a card-carrying nature-fangirl and all around hippy-hipster. She quit in disgust once she had spent enough time to figure out that the agencies sole purpose was to generate enough pages of documentation and billable hours to milk a few million off of any project it reviewed and hand out jobs to the founders cabal as requirements for project completion.
    As a consequence of these types of shenanigans (and I'll not single out environmental consultancies here, this is typical for all approving agencies involved with huge projects), the planning phase of any infrastructure project is frequently so expensive that the actual project never gets going. Meanwhile though, a number of cool cats get fat on the proceeds of pushing paper.

  10. Sam L.:

    Oh, no, you can't build a solar plant! Habitat for the desert tortoise! Ruination! Oh, the tortoisity!

  11. James:

    I've taken that highway several times, and I have definitely come across other vehicles both in my direction AND opposing direction at certain points of the drive - sometimes more than 1 additional vehicle! I've wondered why the passing lanes are all on the upslope of a hill, although it's not much of an issue for me to pass someone as I have some extra HP available in my car. Although the stretch through Kingman on I-40 has much more traffic, the 75MPH speed limit (meaning you should drive 85-90MPH) makes for speedy transit through that area. Also, you do have a brief slowdown through Wickenburg, but they have now bypassed the "downtown" area so it is pretty quick to get through. The bridge over the Hoover Dam was by far the biggest improvement, that used to be a big wildcard and add a minimum 30 minutes up to 2 hours. Now you whiz right over it all. It's about 340 miles from my house to a LV hotel, and it takes 5 hours flat, so I average nearly 70MPH with usually a stop in Wickenburg and Kingman. I bet a high speed train would be way lower, especially when you add time waiting at the station and to get a rental car at the other end -and I'll bet the fare would be more than an airplane (or at least about the same) and I'd still have to rent a car or get a cab when I get there! Gas is about $125 round trip, and I have use of my car while I'm there. If I had a more fuel efficient car, it could easily be $65-70 for gas. This proposal is ridiculous in every way.

  12. rst1317:

    I've been pecking away at a book on this sort of thing, Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. A key bullet point for it by proponents latched onto was NAFTA.

    Over the years in trying to sort these things out, I wonder who to blame. In the end I point a large part of the blame at the media. This sort of "we need to build this thing" is a common, ongoing story. What I've found is that the media never seems capable of producing information breaking things down.

    For example, here in the lil town I'm in there have been people including the local government lobbying for high speed rail connecting us to a near by big metro area. This is a bit different than the push for I-11. But what I suspect is the same is the lack of real data.

    The route is a mere 80 miles. Over the years the state DOT nor the media nor an HSR study done just 3 - 4 years ago told us how much current traffic moves between the two ends in terms of end destinations on the existing 4 lane highway. They haven't talked about actual costs nor why no private investors are interested ( too little traffic for revenue + high capital costs is why but they never point this out ). They never question what level of demand constitutes "need".

    The media just reports on some meetings, rehashes some press releases by the pro group, throws in some quotes by people that know little about the project ( aka "I'd ride it" ) and calls it an article. It leaves the public with the impression that is there is a need, it's just a matter of going through the process and that opposition is merely from NIMBYs and those that aren't forward thinking enough to realize the need.

  13. skhpcola:

    Passing lanes are on inclines because loaded semi trucks generally slow down going uphill. Wouldn't make much sense to spend the money putting an extra lane on the downhill side, except to satisfy those people that get antsy when they are driving behind anybody else.

  14. epobirs:

    Set up a dash cam so you can fast forward through the recording later and count how many other cars were crowding the route that day. That added level of documentation would really do the job.

  15. Brian Heilmann:

    I have read some of the comments and I too have driven Bullhead City to Prescott (back way in on 97 thru Skull Valley) and all the way to Phoenix. As a state employee, there is no safe or fast route from the Colorado River. True, 93 is great when you are the only one on it. But have any of the commenters here that we don't need an I-11 ever drove it when the trucks use it and the RV'ers are moving or an accident like the head on in 1999 by two semi's a No Name? With I-11 it would be smoother and better enforced. It would also create a building growth like I-15 thru California's Temecula. Face it folks, as long a people move from the East and people keep having kids, we are going to run out of highways to support the travel and commerce. The Wikieup and Big Sandy area can be built to support an new and planned batch of communities and increase revenue for both LV and PHX (not by gambling) with direct access to commercial and raw materials from these two growing areas. So what, we have immigrants coming in illegally. Has anyone looked lately that Mexico is now the number one exporter of automobiles both American and European own. Sorry Coyote fans, but unless we stop breeding, the world, especially the western United States is going to grow and need homes and jobs. This project will add to support the three needs of our society; Homes, Jobs, and recreation/travel.