Jenna Minegar

Amid last week’s news of two significant Supreme Court decisions, Congress ended a three year ordeal and passed a long-awaited extension of highway and transit funding. After nine prior extensions of the 2009 transportation bill, a final, one-week extension was filed to provide sufficient time to obtain President Obama’s signature. The bill, which has been touted as providing “unprecedented reforms,” is valid for only two years as opposed to the optimal five years necessary for effective long term planning. After all the political wrangling, the bill finally awaits the president’s signature. 

A significant accomplishment of the federal transportation bill is its inclusion of language designating the Interstate 11 corridor – making the corridor, which would serve as an interstate connection between Phoenix and Las Vegas, eligible for interstate highway funds.

Governor Jan Brewer, with support from Arizona’s congressional delegation and numerous public and private partners, has been actively pursuing the designation of Interstate 11 since her arrival in office. In January’s State of the State address, Governor Brewer highlighted the I-11 project and its importance in promoting commerce, tourism, and trade across the western United States. The project serves as a “cornerstone in her jobs and economic development agenda” – playing a key role in establishing Arizona as a competitive player in the global market.

The I-11 project also supports the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s key long-term economic development initiative known as, the Arizona Southwest <> Project. This project’s central focus is to create an Arizona commercial, business, services and logistics regional HUB serving the southwestern USA and northern Mexico. The Chamber is actively moving forward with strategic implementation plans for this critical statewide and regional project.

Considering the popularity of both destinations, it’s hard to believe that Phoenix and Las Vegas remain the largest cities in the United States not linked by an interstate highway system. When the Federal Highway Transportation act was enacted in 1956, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Reno, and Tucson had a combined population of a mere 700,000. Today that number has grown to 8 million and continues to increase as people from all over the world discover the greatness of eternal sunshine and a booming metropolis.

As population in the western United States grows, trade between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada continues to thrive. Total trade between the three countries reached more than $919 billion in 2010 and is projected to increase substantially as Mexico continues port expansion.

So, as the situation currently stands, we have two popular tourist destinations, both with growing populations and ideal locations between bustling lines of international trade. What we don’t have is a sufficient highway system connecting the two to make the flow of commerce efficient and competitive.

By connecting Phoenix to Las Vegas, and potentially expanding access north to Canada and south to Mexico, Interstate 11 puts Arizona at the center of new opportunities for commerce, tourism and trade.

I-11 would create more efficient trade connections between five of the fastest growing metro areas in the U.S.: Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Phoenix. It would connect major trade hubs, existing and future domestic and international deepwater ports, and intersecting transcontinental roadways and railroad corridors.

On a micro level, I-11 would alleviate congestion in the Valley by providing a route for truck traffic around the Phoenix metro area. This is a key benefit as an expansion of the Mariposa Land Port of Entry in Nogales is estimated to triple the number of trucks driving through parts of Arizona and Nevada, further creating traffic delays and running roadways ragged.

And most notably, according to an estimate of the 2040 travel demand, I-11 would usher 5,000-24,000 passenger and commercial vehicles through Arizona each day. That’s 5,000-24,000 vehicles containing potential patrons of local gas stations, hotels, restaurants, and tourist sites.

The ease and connectivity of Interstate 11 will help solidify Arizona as the destination for business in the Southwest. It will create opportunities for manufacturing, distribution, real estate development, transportation, construction, retail and more. It will create jobs, encourage global investment and increase long-term economic stability.

The development process of I-11 is bound to be long. Engineering and environmental studies will commence this summer, with construction beginning no sooner than 2017.

For now, we await the president’s signature and celebrate the possibility that lies ahead.

Jenna Minegar is Manager of Marketing and Communications at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry