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Museum is about more than just choo choos

The Boulder City Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Nevada Railroad Museum co-sponsored a rather unusual community briefing in a facility on Yucca Street on Sept. 12.

It started at the museum depot with the iconic heavy metal clank, and then the three-car train started moving east on the tracks almost to U.S. Highway 93. Aboard was an impressive entourage of persons interested in the renovation and expansion of the Southern Nevada Railroad Museum and linear park.

You’ve probably heard about the expansion plans for the railroad museum, but chances are, like me, you didn’t quite know what this was all about. Public works skeptics perhaps have said, “I’ve seen the trains before; why do we need another government boondoggle to tie up traffic?” “I heard it will cost $30 million; that would almost buy us that fancy damn swimming pool” or “I thought they learned their lesson not to try to get our voters to approve something so expensive.”

I learned on the train that the money mostly comes from Nevada bonds approved by voters in 2001 so it will not even affect the state’s general fund. A reallocation of those funds was unanimously approved four months ago so they would be used specifically for our project.

Boulder City won’t have a chance to vote no on this issue. Nor to redirect it to a viable swimming pool or to lower utility bills. The bucks won’t appear for a couple of years yet, but we are assured it is a done deal.

As I jumped aboard the train, I was soon welcomed by a smiling Lisa LaPlante, the city’s communications manager. “Are you going to write about us, Mr. Nelson?” This was especially charming since I had met her only once before when she spoke to the Romeo group months ago and there had been no signup sheet for this ride. So either she has a world-class memory for faces or she identified me from the wrinkly old man picture that accompanies this column.

Our first stop was a few blocks toward Buchanan Boulevard while a series of speakers filled us in on the general plan and the 9,700-square-foot visitor center that will be built immediately west of Boulder City Parkway (U.S. Highway 93), where it turns north. The designs look magnificent. Everything will be built with history in mind since the railroad was a necessary and integral part of Hoover Dam construction, which was the sole reason for building Boulder City.

The Railroad Museum has even acquired one of the original engines that served the dam construction.

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada is designing a paved street behind the existing shops from Yucca east to the visitors center, to be built next year.

As the train turned and headed west along the tracks we saw what is to become the linear park and the land north of the highway, all the way out to Railroad Pass. Plans call for a new, concrete hiking/biking trail to meet up with the existing 34-mile River Mountain Loop Trail so the museum will be linked to Boulder City, Henderson, Lake Mead and the dam. The trail extension was not formally connected to the museum expansion or the current rehab of Boulder City Parkway, but planners were cognizant of each other and the result is going to be amazing and should bring new tourists to our town.

We highballed it out behind the Railroad Pass Casino to view the rail and bicycle bridges that were built over Interstate 11. The city of Henderson is expected, by early December, to finalize permission for the trains to cross the bridge into Henderson and about a mile beyond. That’s an important mile as it takes riders in sight of the Las Vegas Strip for nighttime viewing. Hopes are to eventually open the route, at least, all the way to the Fiesta Henderson casino, seven days a week.

Speakers and prominent passengers included Jill Rowland-Lagan, CEO of the chamber; Peter Barton, administrator of the Nevada Division of Museums and History; Keegan Littrel, Boulder City public works director; Clark County Commissioner Jim Gibson; and Boulder City Councilwoman Claudia Bridges.

As we disembarked, I remarked to Gibson that the amazing scope of this will transform Clark County. He enthusiastically agreed.

Dave Nelson retired to Boulder City in 2003 after a career with the FICO score company. He is vice president for the local Sons of Norway.

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