The $86 million question

Fifty-two years ago this week, Sen. Everett Dirksen (D-Ill.) uttered a bit of truth that still resonates in everything the government touches: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

Inflation has changed the equation a bit since 1969. And the discussion of I-11 route options through the Las Vegas Metro Area raises the question of where that calculation stands in 2021.

Planners started with three options, loosely defined as eastern, central and western.

The eastern options seemed to make sense. The miles of new pavement would complete the freeway loop around the city and potentially open up some new areas for development.  But Air Force officials at Nellis, the Forest Service and a host of environmentalists were having none of it. When the cost estimate came in at $2.4 billion, a big red X was applied to that idea.

The other two options don’t require a lot of new construction. At first blush, each looks like a matter of simply hanging I-11 signs on existing highways and declaring victory. Nothing in transportation is ever that easy, or cheap.

Buried in the stack of documents NDOT is showing off in a series of public meetings is a chart comparing the routes.

The central route – up I-515 and US 95 – comes in at $406.394 million. Along that route, it’s 43.2 miles from the Henderson interchange to Kyle Canyon. The trip is estimated to take 48.9 minutes. Public support from previous steps in this process is set at 62 percent.

The western route – west along I-215 and CC215 turning north to US 95 and back to Kyle Canyon – comes in at $320.468 million. That 48.8-mile route is estimated to take 62.7 minutes. The figure could climb – and time could be reduced — if a Sheep Mountain Parkway option was added. No figures are available on that potential add-on.

So, for an extra $86 million – about 27 percent more — we can save 14 minutes per trip.

Is that a good deal?

That, ultimately, is the question NDOT is asking in a round of in-person, by telephone and online forums that will gather comments through Sept. 30.

In the early in-person meetings, staff seemed to narrowly outnumber curious members of the public. There seems little controversy and few questions.

But despite the massive undertaking seeking public input, the stakeholder with the largest voice already has spoken. The trucking industry, which bills by the mile but saves money by shaving time, will take the shortest route, whatever the signs say. And for much of the anticipated through traffic, that’s up what is now I-515 through the Spaghetti Bowl.   

Case closed?

Not quite, but absent some intervention, the dominoes seem to be lining up for the central route to be the one moving toward an expected spring approval by federal transportation officials.

Categories: Nevada

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