Turnaround on a Beltway interchange

cata*lyst (kat'e list') n. 1 (chemistry) A substance, usually used in small amounts relative to the reactants, that modifies and increases the rate of a reaction without being consumed in the process. 2 A person or thing acting as the stimulus in bringing about or hastening a result.

It started with an item in Francis McCabe's "Road Warrior" traffic and transportation column when a reader asked just when the newly completed Beltway interchange with Lake Mead Boulevard would finally open.

"Jane Szymanski asks: Can you tell me when the new ramp to the Beltway from Lake Mead Boulevard in Summerlin will open? I thought it was supposed to open this month.

"Ding, ding, ding, ding!" wrote McCabe in mid-July with his usual insolence, which comes naturally from being stuck so frequently in city traffic. "You're right, Jane! Back in October, I was told the Lake Mead interchange construction project would be complete by the end of July at a cost of $12.3 million. ...

"That means Jane will be able to use the interchange come August, right?

"Of course not."

McCabe went on to explain that a few months prior, the geniuses of traffic control, our currently unindicted county commissioners, decided to keep the interchange closed until there is development west of the ramps and the Beltway interchange with the Summerlin Parkway is finished, possibly in 2010. Considering the current state of the housing economy and the exigencies of construction projects in general, the opening date might be much, much later.

It seems the commissions came to this decision after discussions with people in Sun City, who feared opening the interchange would increase traffic through their quaint little community with unmanned guard shacks at either end and cause an increase in crime.

This was attributed to Bobby Shelton, a spokesman for the Clark County Public Works Department.

Next came the letters to the editor.

"If the Clark County Commission chooses not to open the interchange in August when it is ready, they are doing a disservice to all the residents of the county who live in the general area of the Northwest to mollify a portion of the constituent base living in Sun City," wrote one.

Another commented, "Not using that interchange borders on what -- stupidity, criminal, waste? You decide. I vote for all of the above."

Then came the editorial calling on Commissioner Chip Maxfield, who could not be bothered to return calls from our editorial writer, to stand up to the "Sun City NIMBYs" and open the interchange.

And then ... silence.

A couple of days later Editorial Page Editor John Kerr and writer Glenn Cook were batting about ideas for topics for upcoming editorials and refreshing their collective ire over the fact a perfectly good, $12 million Lake Mead-Beltway interchange was idle.

Kerr hit upon the idea of publishing daily the number of days the interchange had been "held hostage" by our county commissioners -- sort of like the Iran hostage count that ended at 444 days.

Cook started making calls to find out why Commissioner Maxfield was ignoring our requests for comment on the issue and indicating that the newspaper would continue to press the matter on the editorial page.

Lo and behold, the mountain came to Muhammad.

Within hours, a county spokesman called Cook to tell him that Commissioners Maxfield and Susan Brager had scheduled a vote by the full commission on the interchange opening for their Aug. 19 meeting. McCabe reported such in the next day's paper.

"It's clear from the calls, letters and e-mails that I have received that the public thinks we need to open this interchange as soon as possible." McCabe quoted Maxfield as saying. "I wasn't convinced that was the case two years ago when we held public hearings. Today, from a public policy perspective, I think it's the right decision.

"The sooner we open this interchange, the better off the traveling public will be."

The Review-Journal will let you know who votes how in Wednesday's newspaper.

Sometimes the strange chemistry of politics just needs a catalyst.


Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes about the role of the press and access to public information. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchell@reviewjournal.com.