It's nice having friends in high places.
Tom Stephens, who is paid to run Nevada's transportation department, was kind enough last week to forward some of my recent columns to members of the transportation board.
Shows how much I know about transportation directors. I thought Tom would be too busy planning ways around Carson City traffic to spend time pouring over my silly little missives.
But attached to a "memorandum" from Tom dated Aug. 22 were a couple of my columns having to do with the Carson City bypass.
From the tone of Tom's "memorandum" it appears he didn't much care for my commentaries on the progress of the bypass. If you missed them, my columns suggested that there was no such thing as half a bypass and that the delays in bringing traffic completely around Carson City were becoming rather frustrating. Especially considering we've been paying a nickel more for gasoline for the past three-plus years on the assumption that we'd get a complete bypass sometime in our lifetimes. Carson City has been talking about a bypass for at least the past 20 years.
I also expressed concern that there has been more progress on what is called the I-580 Freeway Project between Mount Rose Highway and Washoe Valley than on Phase Two of the bypass. "Why," I wondered aloud, "are they bringing traffic here from Reno faster when those motorists will just have to sit in traffic jams in downtown Carson City?"
"And why," I continued to ask myself, "were we asked to pay more at the pumps to build a $300 million bypass when Washoe County wasn't asked to pay more at the pumps for the $300 million I-580 Freeway Project?"
If things continue as planned, here's the lineup:
1) Carson City gets half a bypass (from the north to Highway 50 East) by 2004.
2) The nine-mile I-580 Freeway through Pleasant Valley designed to bring traffic faster and safer from Reno to Carson City will be done by 2006.
3) We all wait in traffic on Carson Street for at least three years until the second half of bypass is complete sometime in 2009, if there's money left in the pot.
Imagine how special that will be.
Rather than respond to those concerns, Tom took time out of his busy schedule to write a "memorandum" to the commissioners (Gov. Kenny Guinn, Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt, Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, Controller Kathy Augustine, Thomas Gust from Elko, Father Ceasar Caviglia from Clark County and Jim Thorton from Washoe County).
"Attached is the latest page in the Nevada Appeal about the Carson City Freeway Bypass," wrote Tom. "The new wrinkle in today's paper is that the editor is now putting words in my mouth."
Well, not exactly. I've never seen Tom's mouth, let alone gotten close enough to put anything into it.
In my last column, I indicated that the $20 million that will be raised from the nickel gas tax is "chump change" compared to the $300 million cost of the bypass. "Chump change" is a common expression used to describe relationships between large sums of money and small sums of money. Tom didn't say "chump change." He said, "The gas tax will nowhere near support a project of this magnitude."
I used two words. Tom used 12 to say the same thing.
"I am tempted to respond to Mr. Ackerman's editorial but believe a response would only motivate him to dream up more ridiculous thoughts to attribute to NDOT," continued Tom in his official memorandum.
Actually, I don't need much motivation to dream up ridiculous thoughts to attribute to NDOT. Tom provides plenty of both (motivation and ridiculous thoughts) to keep me occupied for some time. As a matter of fact, I just thought of another. I heard NDOT recently learned it would have to pay some $17 million for a little I-580 right-of-way around St. James Village. That was, according to my sources, around $13 million more than NDOT bargained for.
That might qualify for ridiculous.
Tom does make one great point in his memorandum. "You can't argue with people who buy ink by the barrel," he wrote.
Actually, you can, but it's not a great idea. Especially on company time.
Tom goes on to give himself quite a chuckle by pointing out to the commissioners that we ran the wrong picture of Tom Tatro in the paper a couple of week's ago. If you missed that one, we ran his brother John's mug instead and I said we were sorry.
I really don't know what that has to do with traffic, but Tom must have had a reason. Perhaps he wanted to show that unlike NDOT, the Nevada Appeal makes mistakes? Nope. That can't be it. I've seen NDOT cost estimates.
Perhaps Tom thinks I owe him an apology for suggesting that NDOT quit screwing with the bypass project. If that's the case, Tom will be waiting at least as long as we've been waiting for a bypass.
He concludes his memorandum by warning the commissioners that lots of "locals" (that's you guys) will probably show up for the Sept. 20 Transportation Board meeting wondering when they can expect a complete bypass around Carson City.
He says other communities such as Clark and Washoe counties are worried that Carson City will be getting some sort of "home field advantage" by having the meetings here.
Oh, yeah. Carson City is always getting over on poor Clark County. In our dreams, perhaps. Of the five projects listed on NDOT's "Nevada Highway Super Project Program," three are in Clark County.
All we want is a bypass that we've been waiting 20 years to get. And we've already jumped through more hoops than Siegfried and Roy's tigers
I'm hoping that you won't let Tom down. He says he's anticipating a large turnout of you "locals" to the Transportation Board meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 20. He's even secured more room (Legislative Building, Room 1214) to squeeze all of you "locals" into. The meeting will start around 9 a.m.
Those elected officials who sit on that board won't be influenced much by your presence. Your votes don't really make a dent in statewide races (that's just one hammer Clark County holds over our heads) and Tom's already warned the board that you'd probably be showing up. But you still have a chance to be heard and they have to listen. It's the law. You know, one of those "We The People" kind of perks they provide to make us think this is a democracy.
So if you go, ask Tom for your tuna (remember you were promised that you'd get a bypass for the price of one can of tuna per month) and remind him for me that I still have three barrels of ink in the warehouse.
Jeff Ackerman is publisher and editor of the Nevada Appeal.