BOULDER CITY, Nev. — U.S. Sen. Harry Reid made his first Nevada appearance since injuring his face New Year's Day and announcing his retirement last month, saying Monday there are challenges ahead for completing a highway connecting Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Reid addressed a crowd gathered near the Hoover Dam for a groundbreaking ceremony, touting construction of a $318 million bypass that planners hope will be the first section of the Interstate 11 corridor.
He said that a shortage of federal transportation funding means the project leaders will need be creative to make sure there's enough money to finish the project. "We're going to have to spend some money to do this," he said.
The Senate's Democratic minority leader sat next to Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, whom political observers see as a possible heir to Reid's Senate seat in 2016.
The bypass is expected to be completed in 2018 and would send drivers around the Hoover Dam, rather than through it. Developers say it would prevent bottlenecks and make driving from Las Vegas to Phoenix easier.
During his remarks, Reid criticized President Barack Obama for pushing back against congressional earmark spending. Reid said such appropriations are important ways to secure funding and that he used an earmark to jumpstart work on the bypass.
Funding for the entire I-11 project hasn't been identified.
But Sandoval expressed optimism, calling the bypass a "major beginning."
"You've got to start somewhere," he said after the day's speeches.
He envisions a route that would eventually link Phoenix to Las Vegas to Reno and would improve interstate commerce.
Larry Brown, chair of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, said it's clear that local agencies can't rely solely on the federal government for financial help any more. Federal funding will still play a key role, but "the new business model starts with the local governments."
Funds raised through Nevada's Fuel Revenue Indexing program raised about $22 million for the bypass. The state contributed $5 million. The remaining $291 million came from the federal government.
Reid wore sunglasses and moved carefully Monday. He has been recovering from injuries he said he suffered on New Year's Day in his Henderson home when an exercise band snapped and hit him in the face, causing him to crash into nearby cabinets. It left him with broken ribs, and, he said Monday, blindness in his right eye.
He said the injuries wouldn't keep him from running for re-election, but he surprised political observers March 27 with a YouTube video announcing his decision to retire at the end of his term in 2016.