Opening the bridge

The Clark County Commission decided Tuesday to open the nearly completed, $12.4 million Lake Mead Boulevard interchange at the Las Vegas Beltway, rather than leave it closed for two years to appease a few vocal residents who’d rather see the bridge torn down.

Tuesday’s hearing was an event years in the making. An obstructionist band of Sun City Summerlin residents has battled county planners on the interchange and the Beltway itself since the mid-’90s, winning a few construction delays even though plenty of their neighbors have supported the highway’s construction all along.

Earlier this summer, after crews finally wrapped up major work on the Lake Mead Boulevard bridge but barricades remained in place, perplexed motorists began making inquiries with the Review-Journal and county officials to find out when they’d be able to use the interchange’s onramps and offramps.

When the newspaper reported that county officials would not open the bridge until at least 2010 because of the unfounded traffic, crime and property-value concerns of the angry Sun City residents, taxpayers justifiably raised a ruckus. Commissioner Chip Maxfield, whose district includes the interchange site, and Commissioner Susan Brager responded to the public’s outrage by scheduling Tuesday’s agenda item and announcing their support for the bridge’s immediate opening.

A handful of Sun City NIMBYs showed up Tuesday to make their final pleas to rein in progress. Two claimed that if the interchange were opened, the blood of senior citizens would flow down Lake Mead Boulevard faster than the rush of new traffic, and that commissioners would be responsible for the deadly car crashes to come.

But that’s an argument against ever opening the interchange, not leaving it closed for two or three more years.

The bridge has already been built at the expense of all Clark County taxpayers — it has long been part of the county’s Beltway plans — and leaving it closed would be an egregious waste of the limited resources dedicated to highway improvements. Scores of residents left phone messages or e-mailed commissioners saying as much.

The rest of the commission rightly supported opening the interchange as soon as possible. Finishing work should take less than two months. No group of valley residents will benefit more from its opening than those in Sun City Summerlin. This long, silly fight finally should be at an end.

County commissioners lauded the openness of the process and how public involvement ensured government acted in the interests of all taxpayers. Indeed, it was the feedback of a frequently underestimated public that brought about this action. But it’s still unsettling to know that so many county officials previously thought it was a good idea to leave a badly needed, $12.4 million bridge closed for two years.

All the more reason for taxpayers to continue paying close attention to those in charge of spending their tax dollars.

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