Responding to the ire of motorists and taxpayers, the Clark County Commission on Tuesday ordered the Lake Mead Boulevard interchange with the Las Vegas Beltway to be opened.
Tuesday’s decision negates a commission order to keep the $12.5 million interchange closed until 2010, even though it is nearly constructed.
The commission made that decision several years ago to appease residents from Sun City, a retirement community near the interchange, who believed connecting Lake Mead to the Beltway would increase traffic deaths and crime in the area.
Fewer than 10 people spoke in favor of or against opening the interchange at Tuesday’s meeting.
But county officials reported that an overwhelming majority of messages left by citizens encouraged the commission to open the interchange, including 160 of 175 phone messages left regarding the issue.
Not all were pleased.
Sun City resident Edward Gangloff said if the commission opened the interchange blood would be on its hands.
"You are going to be responsible for the fatalities and major traffic accidents," Gangloff said.
He explained that motorists will inevitably speed down the steep road as Lake Mead descends toward the center of the valley.
Combine that with elderly drivers who follow the 35 mph speed limit and the result will be lethal.
Gangloff proposed, to no avail, that the commission prevent drivers who did not live in Sun City from entering the neighborhood’s roadways.
Commissioner Chip Maxfield, who several years ago had agreed to delay opening the interchange, brought the issue before the commission along with Susan Brager.
Maxfield said he’s always been in favor of construction improvements to help lessen congestion and ease traffic problems in the valley.
"There is every reason to have the Lake Mead interchange. There is every reason to have it opened. There are only a few reasons to delay it’s opening," he said.
Maxfield said he agreed to keep the interchange closed so traffic patterns could develop as other interchanges opened.
The idea was that when the Lake Mead interchange was opened, traffic would not burden the community.
Brager said keeping the interchange closed would be a detriment to emergency responders.
When it is opened, fire, police and medical technicians will have easier access to the community.
Bobby Shelton, spokesman for the Clark County public works department, said work to finish the interchange will begin without haste.
He said all that remains is running a power line to the traffic signals, which, if expedited, could be done within six weeks.
The county will also work to erect screens, similar to sound walls, so the ramps won’t be seen by residents neighboring the onramps and offramps. Building the screening was still in the design process and could cost up to $600,000, officials said.
Dave Riggleman, a spokesman for the city of Las Vegas, said the city’s public works department needs to do some minor surfacing work before Lake Mead, from the interchange to Thomas W. Ryan Boulevard, is opened to traffic.
The surfacing work is expected to begin Aug. 26 and probably would be done by Aug. 28 at a cost of about $50,000, he said.
"It’s a two-day job," he said.
The city also has plans to put a traffic signal at the intersection of Lake Mead and Thomas W. Ryan, Riggleman said.
Once power lines have been run along Lake Mead, installing the traffic signals at Thomas W. Ryan will be done in conjunction with the county’s plan to erect traffic signals at the interchange, he said.
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2904.