Public comments are being sought this month on plans for a massive interstate highway project that will cut through Nevada – but not come anywhere near Elko County.
That’s fine with us.
Interstate 11 will connect Phoenix with western Nevada’s new high-tech region along I-80, and beyond. It will be a literal “information superhighway.”
Initially we felt snubbed by the route selection, which follows U.S. 93 from near Phoenix to Las Vegas but then diverts west along U.S. 95 to the Reno-Carson City area. From there, the route could cut back east to Boise or continue northwest through Oregon and on to Canada.
But after seeing the explosive growth in western Nevada it might be good that Elko is being bypassed. One major freeway running east-west has done enough to transform our remote rural area; another one could spoil what remaining attraction we have left as a rural, outdoor wonderland.
“The future I-11 will not only further connect our state, but the entire West. It will bring enhanced mobility, traffic safety, freight and other opportunities for Nevada,” NDOT Director Rudy Malfabon said in announcing the series of gatherings. “As we begin initial planning to determine the interstate’s exact path, these meetings are an opportunity for Nevadans to give feedback and help establish the blueprint of this vital interstate.”
Meetings are planned in a half-dozen communities along the proposed route. None are scheduled in Elko, although the March 29 session in Carson City will be video-conferenced here.
Since the Great Recession ended and the economy began to rebound , the Las Vegas and Reno areas have been growing again – so much that it’s hard to keep up with the news.
“Apple, Switch, Tesla, Raiders and more invest billions in future of Nevada,” said the headline on the March newsletter from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. It describes how $13.6 billion in new capital investment is driving growth in the state.
Apple CEO Tim Cook says his company has invested $1.6 billion in the Reno area and plans another $1 billion over the next six years. Tesla has invested more than half of what is projected to be $5 billion in its cutting-edge Gigafactory.
There is a potential for growth in rural areas of the state as well, including lithium mining and processing, following a change in state water law that is expected to accelerate exploration. A hypothetical $200 million of processed lithium in Humboldt County would generate an additional $70.3 million in economic activity, $40.9 million in personal income, and 148 jobs, according to a University of Nevada study.
We are fortunate that the region’s large mining companies have managed to extend mine life and do enough exploration to keep activity on a relatively stable trajectory since the decline in gold prices following the recession. When one mine closes, another absorbs personnel.
The steady mining has kept local budgets stagnant but not shrinking, which is better than the “boom and bust” cycle typical of the industry.
While western Nevada soaks in silicon, our corner of the state is hoping for decent broadband service and something better than basic 911. But the pace of progress here is enough to keep the economy going. As mining fades, we hope future opportunities will focus on outdoor recreation and other elements that exemplify the rural Nevada lifestyle.
Elko has always taken a different direction than the rest of the state. We may not be handing out tax breaks to billionaires or opening recreational drugstores, but we are still the home of national cowboy poetry and Basque events, and our mountain ranges provide some of the best crowd-free hiking, camping, hunting and fishing on the planet.
Western and Southern Nevada are seeing big developments, and the new I-11 freeway will connect them nicely. Their growth is good for the state. So is the silence of a night on the open range.
Elko has been a leader in the past — starting big-name casino entertainment and Nevada’s first university — but one day we might be famous simply for being the best place to get away from it all.