While the State Board of Transportation meets today to decide the future of Carson City's bike path, thousands of motorists in Las Vegas will be sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic unable to get to a buffet line or slot machine.
And that, as they say in transportation circles, is where the rubber meets the road.
As you may have heard, someone decided years ago that it might be cool to have a bike path running along the bypass that is planned through Carson City.
That way, if someone happened to actually see an endangered Wandering Skipper butterfly that is alleged to live along that stretch of Carson City, he could pull his bike over and chase it through the wetlands.
Unfortunately, if the Nevada Department of Transportation spends $3.5 million on a bike path in Carson City it will deprive Vegas of a left turn lane, traffic signal, or some other device intended to make sure motorists get to the buffet lines and slot machines as quickly as possible. And that would be a tough thing to explain to a Steve Wynn or Kirk Kerkorian.
"Let me get this straight," a mogul might ask the governor. "I've got a million people waiting in traffic to feed on my macaroni and cheese and you let them spend 3-point-5 BIG ONES on a stinking bike path in some cow town up north?"
"Well, Mr. Mogul," the guv might reply. "It's actually not a cow town. I live there. It's the capital of Nevada."
"That's just great," the casino mogul campaign financier might respond. "I got 300 limos out there sucking up fuel just so a bunch of nature-loving bicycle riders in Carson City can chase butterflies from K-Mart to WalMart."
For the sake of argument, let's just say the state transportation board decides to spend the $3.5 million on a left-turn lane in Vegas instead of a bike path in Carson City. Will that relieve traffic congestion in Las Vegas? Nope. As soon as the first left turn is made another 500 cars will have arrived from Utah.
You would have thought transportation problems in Las Vegas would be considered before erecting 20,000-room hotels with roller coasters, volcanoes and Venice waterfronts with gondolas driven by Irishmen posing as Italians. Maybe ask one of the moguls to kick in a few more bucks for a few more turn lanes. They could even paint little slot machine symbols down the middle. The traffic signals could actually be slot reels. Get three oranges and you get to turn. A cherry, orange and banana and you go back to L.A.
Actually, they're missing a great opportunity down there. If I ran a casino I'd send Keno runners and cocktail waitresses out to the traffic jams.
Traffic has gotten so bad in Vegas there's a Web site featuring horror stories from drivers. Many blame Southern California transplants who move to the desert oasis to escape traffic. "You call this traffic?" they say. "Why I remember sitting on the 405 in the San Fernando Valley for two days fighting off carjackers."
From the other comments it appears the solution isn't to build more roads, but to start confiscating drivers licenses. It seems many motorists still don't know that red means stop, green means go and that the little handle to the left of the steering wheel is used for signaling lane changes or turns.
Transportation board member Tom Gust echoed NDOT when he said he is afraid of setting a precedent. If they pay for a bike/pedestrian path in Carson City everyone will want one. Kind of like the Beanie Baby craze. And they don't particularly care what the feds say, transportation is about cars, trucks and motor homes, not some sissy bicycles.
Another board member said they "moved heaven and hell" just to get Carson City the bypass, so we ought to just shut up and be happy with that.
Well...let's hope they didn't move hell too far north. But the suggestion was clear we'd have to move heaven, hell and maybe throw in Ely if we are to get the bike path to go along with the bypass.
One of the board members actually acknowledged that Carson City residents have been paying a nickel more at the gas pumps to get the bypass funded. That should actually raise more than the state is kicking in, unless NDOT looks at the federal money as its own. The board member was also quick to point out that the cost estimates have escalated since the bypass was approved 135 or so years ago.
That's right, citizens. Early settlers gazed east and wondered if there might be an easier way to get to and from Costco so they drew up a plan in the dirt. They had vision, those pioneers, and if it hadn't been for the Wandering Skipper and before him the equally-endangered T-Rex we'd be driving on the bypass by now.
The NDOT chiefs have offered a compromise of sorts that the state board will likely approve today, considering their pre-meeting comments. Under that proposal we'd get some striping down on some connecting streets and maybe even some topsoil and a little right-of-way thrown in for good measure.
Carson City officials know their brothers to the south hold all the cards, so they've pretty much determined to take what they can get.
Unfortunately, what they'll get will look a lot more like hell than the slice of heaven a bikeable and walkable community would offer Carson City.
Jeff Ackerman is publisher of the Nevada Appeal.