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Board picks U.S. 95 as I-11 route

All roads don’t lead to Tesla, but Interstate 11 apparently will.

The Nevada Department of Transportation board voted Monday to designate U.S. Highway 95 as the proposed route for the future interstate between Las Vegas and I-80.

State transportation leaders said they were picking U.S. 95 over U.S. 93 in part because of growing industrial development in northwestern Nevada, including Tesla battery factory announced last week.

Another big factor in the decision is where the interstate is likely to go after it leaves Nevada. Following U.S. 95 directs I-11 toward “megapolitan regions” of California and the Pacific Northwest, said Sondra Rosenberg, who is heading up NDOT’s work on the project.

By contrast, an eastern route along U.S. 93 could steer I-11 through small cities in Idaho and Montana on its way to what one audience member bluntly called “nowhere Canada.”

Walter Ratchford of Carson City said it might be cheaper to build an interstate along U.S. 93 instead of U.S. 95, but “we would get no benefit from it for the state.”

Before Monday’s vote, the state transportation department heard from several other people who favor the U.S. 95 route and one who doesn’t: White Pine County Commissioner Richard Howe. He urged board members to think ahead to what Nevada might look like 30 years from now and not “forget us in the eastern part of the state,” which he said is sure to see its population grow.

I-11 is years, maybe decades, from becoming a reality.

Eventually, the interstate is expected to create a new path for travel and commerce from Mexico to Canada, though the priority so far has been the stretch between Phoenix and Las Vegas, the two largest metropolitan areas in the country not connected by an interstate highway.

Still left undecided is what route I-11 will take through the Las Vegas Valley and across northern Clark County.

The three main options under consideration include:

n simply following U.S. 95 through the heart of the valley;

n taking U.S. 95 north from Railroad Pass to the 215 Beltway, then west and north to approximately Ann Road, where a new section of freeway would be built to rejoin U.S. 95 near state Route 157;

n or the least popular and most expensive option of a route to skirt the valley east of Frenchman Mountain, join I-15 near Nellis, then head west on the northern 215 Beltway to U.S. 95.

Even with the decision to send I-11 up the western half of the state, there are still plenty of details to be worked out with Nevada’s piece of what is being called the Intermountain West Corridor.

State transportation officials haven’t decided exactly where the new interstate should connect with I-80 and where it should go from there. One option is to follow U.S. 95 to Fernley, then west to Reno and north on U.S. 395 into southern Oregon. Another possibility is to head northeast from Fernley through Winnemucca to Idaho.

State Controller Kim Wallin, who serves on the NDOT board, said it worries her to be talking about “building a road and not knowing where it’s going to come out.”

Part of the uncertainty comes from not knowing which of Nevada’s northern neighbors will ultimately commit to its section of I-11, Rosenberg said.

Wallin has also expressed concerns about the impact of the state’s incentive-laden deal with Tesla on funding for I-11 and other major highway projects in Nevada.

As part of the package to lure Tesla’s $5 billion Gigafactory to the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Park, the state agreed to pay almost $100 million to buy right-of-way and finish construction of an 18-mile parkway linking I-80 to U.S. 50 through the industrial park.

Wallin said that pledge will put more pressure on state transportation funding already committed to the $1.3 billion Project Neon widening project on I-15 from Sahara Avenue to the Spaghetti Bowl.

But others cited the Tesla announcement and other recent commercial and industrial developments in the Reno-Sparks area as justification for steering I-11 northwest from Las Vegas instead of the east side of the state.

Monday’s designation of U.S. 95 came after Gov. Brian Sandoval, who also serves on the transportation board, recommended quick action to help keep the project — and possible funding options for its planning and development — moving forward.

“We don’t know the cost. There’s a lot we don’t know, but we know it has to get built, one way or another,” Sandoval said during the meeting in Carson City.

Howe told board members that he didn’t agree with the decision, but he understood why it needed to be made.

“I-11 is too important to stall in any way,” the White Pine County commissioner said. “The citizens of eastern Nevada don’t want to stand in the way.”

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Find him on Twitter: @RefriedBrean.

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