Interstate 15 in Arizona

Last updated

I-15 (AZ).svg

Interstate 15
Veterans Memorial Highway
I-15 highlighted in red
Route information
Maintained by ADOT
Length29.43 mi [1] (47.36 km)
Existed1962 (1962) [2] –present
Major junctions
South endI-15.svg I15 near Mesquite, NV
North endI-15.svg I-15 near St. George, UT
Counties Mohave
Highway system
I-10.svg I-10 I-17 I-17.svg

Interstate 15 (I-15) is an Interstate Highway, running from San Diego, California, United States, to the Canada–US border, through Mohave County in northwest Arizona. Despite being isolated from the rest of Arizona, in the remote Arizona Strip, and short in length at 29.43 miles (47.36 km), it remains notable for its scenic passage through the Virgin River Gorge. The highway heads in a northeasterly direction from the Nevada border northeast of Mesquite, Nevada, to the Utah border southwest of St. George, Utah.

Canada–United States border international border between Canada and the USA

The Canada–United States border, officially known as the International Boundary, is the longest international border in the world between two countries. It is shared between Canada and the United States, the second- and fourth/third largest countries by area, respectively. The terrestrial boundary is 8,891 kilometres (5,525 mi) long, of which 2,475 kilometres (1,538 mi) is Canada's border with Alaska. Eight Canadian provinces and territories, and thirteen U.S. states are located along the border.

Mohave County, Arizona County in the United States

Mohave County is in the northwestern corner of the U.S. state of Arizona. As of the 2010 census, its population was 200,186. The county seat is Kingman, and the largest city is Lake Havasu City.

Arizona state of the United States of America

Arizona is a state in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the Western and the Mountain states. It is the sixth largest and the 14th most populous of the 50 states. Its capital and largest city is Phoenix. Arizona shares the Four Corners region with Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico; its other neighboring states are Nevada and California to the west and the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California to the south and southwest.


The south portion of I-15's route was built close to the alignment of the old U.S. Route 91 (US 91), but the northern section, through the Virgin River Gorge, was built along roadless terrain. The southern section of the highway was complete and open in the early 1960s, but the gorge section was inaccessible until 1973. When it opened, the Virgin River Gorge passage was the most expensive section of rural Interstate per mile.

Route description

A storm rolls over the Virgin River Gorge I15storm3.jpg
A storm rolls over the Virgin River Gorge

The highway is signed and designated the Veterans Memorial Highway, [3] a designation which continues into Utah. [4] Traffic volume along the Arizona section of I-15 is approximately 23,000 vehicles per day. [5] The highway is also a part of the CANAMEX Corridor, a trade corridor in North America linking Edmonton, Alberta in Canada and Mexico City. [6]

Utah A state of the United States of America

Utah is a state in the western United States. It became the 45th state admitted to the U.S. on January 4, 1896. Utah is the 13th-largest by area, 31st-most-populous, and 10th-least-densely populated of the 50 United States. Utah has a population of more than 3 million according to the Census estimate for July 1, 2016. Urban development is mostly concentrated in two areas: the Wasatch Front in the north-central part of the state, which contains approximately 2.5 million people; and Washington County in Southern Utah, with over 160,000 residents. Utah is bordered by Colorado to the east, Wyoming to the northeast, Idaho to the north, Arizona to the south, and Nevada to the west. It also touches a corner of New Mexico in the southeast.

The CANAMEX corridor is a series of improvements to freeways and other transportation infrastructure linking Canada to Mexico through the United States. The corridor was established under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Currently the corridor is defined by a series of highways. However, the corridor is also proposed for use by railroads and fiber optic telecommunications infrastructure.

Edmonton Provincial capital city in Alberta, Canada

Edmonton is the capital city of the Canadian province of Alberta. Edmonton is on the North Saskatchewan River and is the centre of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region, which is surrounded by Alberta's central region. The city anchors the north end of what Statistics Canada defines as the "Calgary–Edmonton Corridor".

The highway enters the state in Mohave County northeast of Mesquite and Las Vegas, Nevada, paralleling the old US 91 heading northeast on an alignment north of the Virgin River. I-15 parallels the Virgin River for its entire length in Arizona, but the terrain abruptly becomes more rugged at mile 13, where the Virgin River Gorge begins. [7] The first interchange is exit 8 at Littlefield, where old US 91 turns north to avoid the gorge. I-15 crosses the river for the first time just beyond Littlefield, and soon passes another interchange serving local roads eastwards. This exit, exit 9, is a right-in/right-out design with frontage roads, constructed after the initial opening. Access under I-15 is provided just south of the ramps. [7]

Mesquite, Nevada City in Nevada, United States

Mesquite is a U.S. city in Clark County, Nevada, adjacent to the Arizona state line and 80 miles (130 km) northeast of Las Vegas on Interstate 15. As of July 1, 2017, the United States Census estimates that the city had a population of 18,541. The city is located in the Virgin River valley adjacent to the Virgin Mountains in the northeastern part of the Mojave Desert. It is home to a growing retirement community, as well as several casino resorts and golf courses.

Virgin River river in Nevada, United States

The Virgin River is a tributary of the Colorado River in the U.S. states of Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. The river is about 162 miles (261 km) long. It was designated Utah's first wild and scenic river in 2009, during the centennial celebration of Zion National Park.

Virgin River Gorge long canyon that has been carved out by the Virgin River in northwest Arizona, United States

The Virgin River Gorge, located between St. George, Utah, and Beaver Dam, Arizona, is a long canyon that has been carved out by the Virgin River in northwest Arizona. The Virgin River rises on the Colorado Plateau and created the topography of both Zion National Park and the Virgin River Gorge. The Gorge connects the southwestern rim of the Colorado Plateau and the northeastern part of the Mojave Desert.

I-15 seen towards north in the Virgin River Gorge I-15 Arizona Virgin River Gorge.jpg
I-15 seen towards north in the Virgin River Gorge
I-15 at exit 18 Cedarpkt.jpg
I-15 at exit 18

Beyond exit 9, I-15 enters the Virgin River Gorge, first passing through "The Narrows". Here, the gorge features limestone cliffs that are as high as 500 feet (150 m) above the highway. Several pulloffs allow access to these cliffs. [8] Within the canyon, through which it ascends northbound and descends southbound, five bridges cross the river. [9] The highway generally follows the winding course of the river, but several rock cuts bypass bends. [7]

Limestone Sedimentary rocks made of calcium carbonate

Limestone is a carbonate sedimentary rock that is often composed of the skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral, foraminifera, and molluscs. Its major materials are the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). A closely related rock is dolostone, which contains a high percentage of the mineral dolomite, CaMg(CO3)2. In fact, in old USGS publications, dolostone was referred to as magnesian limestone, a term now reserved for magnesium-deficient dolostones or magnesium-rich limestones.

The canyon opens up slightly at the Cedar Pocket interchange (exit 18), allowing for a rest area. This rest area was turned over to the federal Bureau of Land Management in 2002 which maintains the nearby Virgin River Gorge Recreation Area. [10] The rest area was demolished in 2009. I-15 continues to parallel the Virgin River, but begins to deviate more. [7] Trees here include tamarix, ash, cottonwoods, willows and Joshua trees. Wildflowers such as globemallow, marigold, and sand verbena dot the route in springtime. [8] At mile 22.5, the highway crosses the Virgin River for the final time, continuing east along the smaller Black Rock Gulch before then turning slightly northeast into a flatter area. The final interchange (exit 27) provides local access.

Rest area public area, usually adjacent to limited-access highway, used for rest from travel

A rest area is a public facility, located next to a large thoroughfare such as a highway, expressway, or freeway, at which drivers and passengers can rest, eat, or refuel without exiting onto secondary roads. Other names include: motorway service area (UK), Services (UK), travel plaza, rest stop, service area, service station, rest and service area (RSA), resto, service plaza, lay-by, and service centre. Facilities may include park-like areas, fuel stations, public toilets, water fountains, restaurants, and dump and fill stations for recreational vehicles.

Bureau of Land Management agency within the United States Department of the Interior

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is an agency within the United States Department of the Interior that administers more than 247.3 million acres (1,001,000 km2) of public lands in the United States which constitutes one eighth of the landmass of the country. President Harry S. Truman created the BLM in 1946 by combining two existing agencies: the General Land Office and the Grazing Service. The agency manages the federal government's nearly 700 million acres (2,800,000 km2) of subsurface mineral estate located beneath federal, state and private lands severed from their surface rights by the Homestead Act of 1862. Most BLM public lands are located in these 12 western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

<i>Tamarix</i> genus of plants

The genus Tamarix is composed of about 50–60 species of flowering plants in the family Tamaricaceae, native to drier areas of Eurasia and Africa. The generic name originated in Latin and may refer to the Tamaris River in Hispania Tarraconensis (Spain).

A weigh station/port of entry formerly served both sides of the road near mile 28 before the Utah state line. [7] The weigh station/port of entry are now combined into a joint Arizona/Utah facility just north of the state line staffed by the Arizona Department of Transportation (DOT) Motor Vehicle Division and Utah DOT Motor Carrier Division. I-15 continues on into Utah providing access to St. George as well as Salt Lake City. [7]


I-15 in afternoon light Rockcut15.jpg
I-15 in afternoon light

The Old Spanish Trail from Southern California had two routes through northwestern Arizona, splitting at Littlefield; one went north towards central Utah, and the other went northeast through the Virgin River Gorge, straddling the state line to the Four Corners area. [11] When the Arrowhead Trail was marked in the 1920s, and U.S. Route 91 in 1926, automobile travelers between Nevada and Utah followed the northerly routing, turning east in Utah to reach St. George. [12]

When the Interstates were planned, federal authorities decided to save 12 miles (19 km) over US 91 and pass through the Virgin River Gorge to take advantage of its scenery and lower grades for trucks. [13] [14] Construction was completed first, in the early 1960s, on the portion between Nevada and the gorge. The bridges over Big Bend Wash were completed in 1962. The bridge over the Virgin River near Littlefield was completed by 1964. By 1965, the overpass over Black Rock Road (northwards) was finally complete. [9]

Construction through the gorge was slower and much more difficult, and the segment could not fully open until December 14, 1973. [15] To help quicken construction, the state of Utah loaned a portion of their federal highway funds to Arizona. [14] Even though the highway is of little importance to the transportation needs of Arizona, as it does not link any Arizona communities, it does serve as a vital link between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas and Los Angeles to the southwest. [16] Despite extra funding, however, challenges remained. Flash flooding and quicksand in the gorge repeatedly caused problems, with equipment and materials apparently disappearing overnight. Worse, the project was to claim a life, when in October 1969, a helicopter performing reconnaissance on the gorge crashed due to wind, killing the pilot. To help navigate the gorge's rugged and unforgiving terrain, a special piece of equipment called a swamp buggy had to be brought from Texas. [17] Even with this help, the route still demanded construction of four bridges over Virgin River. The westernmost bridge and the bridge carrying the northbound lanes at the third bridge location from the west were completed in 1972. By 1973, all five bridges were finally complete. [9]

Even before its opening, it was promoted as the most scenic highway in the state; a 1988 article in Arizona Highways said that the project "enhanced rather than distracted from Nature's handiwork". The Virgin River was rechanneled 12 times in what was the most expensive rural freeway in the country, at the price of approximately $10 million per mile ($6,200,000/km) or $49 million per mile ($30,000,000/km) in 2007 dollars. [13] [18]

Exit list

The entire route is in Mohave County.

Locationmi [1] kmExitDestinationsNotes
0.000.00I-15.svg I15 south Las Vegas Continuation into Nevada
Beaver Dam 8.6113.868 Beaver Dam, Littlefield Former US 91
9.6315.509Desert SpringsFormerly signed as Farm Road
18.3529.5318Cedar Pocket
Black Rock 27.4944.2427Black Rock Road
29.4347.36I-15.svg I-15 north (Veterans Memorial Highway) Salt Lake City Continuation into Utah
1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi

See also

Related Research Articles

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  1. 1 2
  2. Arizona State Legislature. "HJR2003 - 421R — S Ver". State of Arizona. Archived from the original on May 3, 2005. Retrieved January 12, 2008.
  3. Utah State Legislature. "Utah Code Section 72-4-201". State of Utah. Archived from the original on July 11, 2008. Retrieved January 12, 2008.
  4. Staff. "Average Annual Daily Traffic (AADT)". Arizona Department of Transportation. Archived from the original on July 21, 2007. Retrieved May 8, 2008.
  5. Staff. "CANAMEX Highway in the USA". CANAMEX Corridor Coalition. Archived from the original on May 6, 2008. Retrieved May 10, 2008.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Topographic Maps (Map). Cartography by United States Geological Survey. Microsoft Research Maps. Retrieved May 7, 2008.
  7. 1 2 Green, Stewart (2003). Scenic Driving Arizona. Falcon Guide (2nd ed.). Old Saybrook, CT: Globe Pequot. p. 24. ISBN   0-7627-2701-2.
  8. 1 2 3 Arizona Department of Transportation (February 28, 2015). "Arizona State Highway System Bridge Record" (PDF). Arizona Department of Transportation. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  9. Staff (December 20, 2002). "Arizona Right-of-Way Resolution 2002-12-A-062" (PDF). Arizona Department of Transportation. Retrieved April 17, 2008.
  10. Staff. "Old Spanish National Historic Trail". National Park Service. Archived from the original on October 16, 2011. Retrieved August 9, 2007.
  11. Auto Road Atlas (Map). Rand McNally. 1926. Retrieved April 16, 2008.
  12. 1 2 "Costliest freeway nears completion". Tucson Daily Citizen . November 22, 1972. p. 31. Retrieved July 16, 2018 via Lock-green.svg
  13. 1 2 "Costliest Interstate To Be in Arizona". The News-Press . Fort Myers, Florida. Associated Press. November 14, 1969. p. D10. Retrieved July 16, 2018 via Lock-green.svg
  14. Staff (2006). "Today in Interstate History". American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved April 16, 2008.
  15. "Bids Called on First Paving Work On Scenic Virgin River Gorge Road". Arizona Daily Sun . Flagstaff, Arizona. June 16, 1972. p. 2. Retrieved July 16, 2018 via Lock-green.svg
  16. "I-15 Project Surrounded by Problems". Arizona Daily Sun. Flagstaff, Arizona. December 18, 1973. p. 13.
  17. Staff. "Final List of Nationally and Exceptionally Significant Features of the Federal Interstate Highway System". Federal Highway Administration . Retrieved August 9, 2007.

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