I’ve just driven the length of America’s newest Interstate highway. Which didn’t take long.
Plans are for I-11 — as the new road is designated — to eventually extend from Nogales, at the Mexican border, all the way to Canada. But it currently runs for only 15 miles, or just far enough to bypass Boulder City, Nevada, and add fuel to an argument people have been having about the Interstate Highway System ever since it opened in 1956.
Will the 34 percent reduction in traffic through Boulder City and half-hour savings in driving time for thru-motorists that is projected as a result of the I-11 bypass help make the home of Hoover Dam and Lake Mead a more pleasant place to live, and drive through, or hasten it toward becoming one more American ghost town?
The locals seem to be divided, as locals seem to be about almost everything, almost everywhere. But for those of us passing through, excuse me, around, Boulder City, I’m pretty sure we alI agree that I-11 as it now exists is not the most scenic Interstate ever built.
Running through a desert crisscrossed with power lines carrying the massive amounts of electricity generated by Hoover Dam, new highway’s only visual landmark is one of those messages you see painted white on hillsides celebrating towns or college football teams, except this one celebrates Pro Gun Club, an organization, I understand, whose activities include trap and skeet, machine gun shooting, and the opportunity to “blow shit up.”
From the historical perspective, I-11 has a bit more to offer, starting as it currently does at the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, which crosses the Colorado River just below the dam. O’Callaghan, yawn, was governor of Nevada from 1971 to 1979, but Tillman, as anyone who lives in Arizona and follows NFL football will remember, was a star player with the Arizona Cardinals when he turned down a $3.3 million contract in order to join the Army and serve in Afghanistan, where in 2004 he was killed by friendly fire.
I don’t know if I-11 will turn Boulder City into a ghost town. But I do hope that the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge will continue to remind interstate travelers that there are ghosts worth remembering.