Ah, for the good old days, when the feds tossed money our way as if it were fertilizer.
That's when we heard about such things as mega-super highway projects. We read about Blue Ribbon highway task forces and pie-in-the-sky Nevada Department of Transportation projections. State reports talked about population growth and the demand for highway construction costing barrels of dollars to satisfy the appetite of a burgeoning economy.
Well, as we all know, the burgeoning economy went bust. But somehow you might think those "good old days" and the optimism that percolated then were considerably more than only five years ago. And yet so much has happened in those five years, driven largely by the dying gasps of a state economy that once was the fastest growing in the country.
Among the grandiose highway plans that teetered and collapsed in so short a time was one that would have widened the six-mile stretch of Summerlin Parkway from two to four lanes each way. The reasoning was simple ---- at least it was five years ago, when money was synonymous with confetti ---- to open up vast areas of the western sector of Summerlin for development and greater economic growth.
This all comes to mind as each day we observe how $26 million is being spent to build a bridge above the Rainbow Curve as a connector just for high-occupancy vehicles traveling between U.S. Highway 95 and Summerlin Parkway. Approximately 90 percent of that expenditure was earmarked from Washington, D.C., many years ago, committed just for the HOV lane bridge.
So for those of you who might be under the misapprehension that the construction you're witnessing at the Rainbow Boulevard "spaghetti bowl" is the long-awaited plan to widen Summerlin Parkway, guess again.
"Plain and simple, we don't have the money to proceed with the widening of Summerlin Parkway," said Jace Radke, spokesman for the city of Las Vegas, which owns the parkway. "Right now that project is on the back burner."
So, if for no other reason than argument's sake, what are the cost estimates for a widening project that would bring considerable benefits to the city and to Summerlin in particular?
After checking with the number crunchers, Radke said the "best estimates" at this time would be between $40 million and $55 million. That's a pretty wide range, but if you consider the estimated cost from the high end, it would be just a little more than double the cost of building a bridge over the Rainbow Curve that will consist of just an HOV lane.
And what would be the benefits from proceeding with the Summerlin Parkway project? After all, the day will come when the economic slide turns around.
For one thing, it would relieve growing traffic volume, especially during commuter hours. For another thing, it would widen the northwest passage to a good percentage of Summerlin's undeveloped acreage. And perhaps most important, for an immediate payback, it would produce jobs ---- lots of highway construction jobs for at least a couple of years in a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in the Western world.
Now, back to the HOV lane bridge, or as one comedian put it, Las Vegas' answer to the "bridge to nowhere." Of course, that may sound a bit extreme. But look at it from another perspective, one that indeed adds a certain level of frivolity to the project that's scheduled to be completed sometime next spring.
As an HOV lane, the bridge will lawfully permit only those vehicles that carry more than one person, in essence an initiative to encourage carpooling, which is all well and good. But there's a bigger downside.
In case you haven't noticed, there are no HOV lanes on Summerlin Parkway. That means once the bridge is completed, a new layer of traffic will be encouraged to exit Interstate 15 north onto Summerlin Parkway west and somehow manage to squeeze into the same two-lane roadway. It also means one serious conclusion ---- more congestion on an already over-burdened section of road, especially during the dinner hour.
Of course there would have been HOV lanes on Summerlin Parkway if the widening project had materialized. Just another example of building a cart without a horse.
Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. He is the author of the novels "Falling Dominoes" and "One At A Time." Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.