Ted Simons: Phoenix and Las Vegas are the only two major U.S. cities not directly connected by a freeway, but that could change as the Arizona and Nevada Departments of Transportation hosted five public meetings this month to look at options for a proposed interstate. For more on those options we welcome Mike Kies, who led the study for Arizona. Good to have you here.
Mike Kies: Thank you, Ted.
Ted Simons: The Intermountain West Corridor, the I-11 Intermountain West Corridor study, what are we talking about here?
Mike Kies: Well, the idea of better connecting Las Vegas and Phoenix has been around for quite a while, some may know it as the Canamex corridor proposed by Congress in 1995. Recently, there's been the talk about upgrading U.S. 93 to an interstate, and Congress last summer, as part of their Federal legislation, designated U.S. 93 from Las Vegas to Phoenix, and as a potential future interstate. So, we're looking at the feasibility of if it's appropriate to connect Las Vegas and Phoenix with an interstate, and also, is it appropriate to go beyond that, and that's why we call it the Intermountain West Corridor.
Ted Simons: Interesting. So what are you looking at as far as options, and were those option this is place before the study took place? Have new options popped up? What's happening?
Mike Kies: New options have popped up as we've been going through the study. In fact, we've been, been spending, we're in a two-year study and we've been spending the first year just looking at the justification of a corridor like this. And we documented that in our corridor justification report. Now we have opened it up to ideas of what would be a feasible corridor to serve that justification. That's where we got all the ideas for the corridors that we've been analyzing.
Ted Simons: And there is really not -- as yet, no official map of the proposed routes or is that out yet?
Mike Kies: No, there is no, no specific -- we have several ideas that are still being carried forward. We took a whole bunch of ideas that people have given us, gone through an evaluation to, to screen down to the most feasible, and now we still have several alternatives that we're taking forward.
Ted Simons: Is passenger rail at all involved in this?
Mike Kies: We're not specifically looking, only at passenger rail. In fact, the corridors that we're evaluating under the Intermountain West Corridor, we're looking at potential multi-modal corridors. So many people think that when you say Interstate 11, they immediately think of ribbons asphalt moving lots of trucks and cars. But we want to look at a corridor that could serve any mode in the future, that's justified, whether that be freight, passenger rail, and even maybe the transmission of power and things like that.
Ted Simons: And I was going to say, all the options, there probably is a no build option, as well, correct?
Mike Kies: Sure, there is always a no build option.
Ted Simons: Ok. As far as the options out there, the proposals out there, how much would take what is already existing and expand it, and how much would go through some pretty nice desert, beautiful desert in that particular route? Or that particular region here north and northwest? Is that into play? How much is that into play?
Mike Kies: Well, currently, between Wickenburg and Las Vegas, we have two major alternatives that we're still considering. One would roughly follow U.S. 93 as we all know it from Wickenburg to Kingman and onto Hoover Dam. Another alternative has variation from that, and does move through some desert areas.
Ted Simons: So, you are looking for, you have got to meet travel needs, and I would imagine you have to meet freight needs?
Mike Kies: Yeah, the bulk of our justification is based on future economic scenarios like the diversification of Arizona into a manufacturing economy. That means that trade flows will change, there will be more need for, for the different modes like freight rail and interstate highways.
Ted Simons: And how about economic studies? What needs to be done and what has been done?
Mike Kies: Well, we're looking --
Ted Simons: I'm sorry, environmental, I said economic, I meant environmental, we can do the economic studies, as well but environmental, I think, a lot of folks are concerned because when they saw the car drive up to the Virgin desert up there, it looked nice.
Mike Kies: What ADOT and NDOT are doing now is looking at the feasibility of this corridor as a whole, from as far as Mexico to the northern border Nevada. We're looking at those feasibility corridors. We will be done this summer, with our feasibility study. Then, there are specific environmental studies that would have to follow. And we may do that by segments, along the corridor, and look at smaller pieces as we go forward.
Ted Simons: And who is paying for the studies?
Mike Kies: Well, both the states of Arizona and Nevada get Federal funding as part of the transportation package to do planning studies like this, and we're both using our Federal planning funds to fund this study.
Ted Simons: Who would pay for an eventual -- let's keep it at a freeway. Who would pay for the freeway?
Mike Kies: We have lots options; the funding hasn't been identified yet. We could use the Federal funding packages that we get today to do this. However, our funding is limited, and that might take quite a while to fund a package, a project that way. There could be future funding options in the future, that maybe the voters or the legislature provides us, or there is always the possibility of private-public partnerships and those things might involve things like tolls.
Ted Simons: I was going to say, toll roads would be the next question if, that's a possibility. And it is.
Mike Kies: It's always a possibility.
Ted Simons: What are you hearing so far from folks who have taken part in these hearings and what are concerns both pro and con?
Mike Kies: Well, a lot of the concerns con is, as you mentioned, the environment and moving new corridor, and even if we do talk about a multi-modal corridor that could include the opportunity for power transmission and other modes like freight rail, it would be larger than we see like along U.S. 93 today, or interstate 10 that you see down to Tucson. So there could be some impacts that land might need to be acquired, and there are groups concerned backs and they do come to our public meetings, and we take all their comments seriously.
Ted Simons: And there were, if I remember correctly, there was a northern and a central and a southern group of meetings, correct?
Mike Kies: Correct. Yeah. And we broke -- because the corridor is so large, we have broken it into what we call our southern connectivity area. Which is kind of looking from Phoenix down to the Mexican border, how would we best connect to that Mexican border for the enhancement of trade movements and freight? And then the central area is really the Phoenix metro area, and then, northern Arizona, is that area from Wickenburg to the Nevada border.
Ted Simons: Did you find different concerns among the different regions?
Mike Kies: Of course.
Ted Simons: What did you hear?
Mike Kies: Well, in the Tucson area, there is a lot of concern about enhancing freight movements from Mexico. A lot of the focus is on how can there be a better connectivity with Mexico and moving things in the future across the border. But the Tucson area is ringed with a lot of pristine environmental lands, and we have heard from quite a few residents in parts of the Tucson area that are concerned that there might be some consideration to create a new corridor in places where there aren’t transportation facilities today.
Ted Simons: And as far as the northern part of the state, were their concerns different?
Mike Kies: Their concerns, the environmental concerns are always there. But the northern part of the state is a little more anxious to see this happen, you know --
Ted Simons: Interesting.
Mike Kies: And the improvements we've been doing on U.S. 93, people want to see those continued, and even be further enhanced into an interstate.
Ted Simons: So, give us a time frame here. You have mentioned how long the study is going on, what happens next, when will there be something?
Mike Kies: That's the big question always because funding hasn't been identified, as I mentioned, and really, when you start to talk about a timeline to implement you always need to know where that funding is coming from. So what we could do after the study is done this summer is continue on with further environmental studies, and those take three to five years as a minimum for a corridor this large or even a piece of this corridor this large. But then funding needs to be found, and once fund is found, then final engineering plans, right-of-way, and construction.
Ted Simons: Well, it sounds promising, and let's see what develops, good to have you here, and thanks for joining us.
Mike Kies: Thanks.