Storey moving quickly on V&T project
With voter-approved sales tax in hand, Storey County officials are moving quickly on plans to extend the V&T railroad into the heart of Virginia City.
County Manager Pat Whitten said the county hopes to go out to bid on the project by the end of this month and start construction in the spring.
The money will come from a quarter-cent sales tax dedicated to the V&T project. That tax has been in effect 15 years and helped pay for the portion of the project already in operation. But it was scheduled to sunset at the end of this year.
Officials asked voters to extend it and, by a margin better than 2-to-1, they did so Nov. 2.
The plan is to rebuild historic Tunnel 6, which brought the V&T into Virginia City more than 100 years ago, and to buy and refurbish the freight depot.
Right now, the track ends on a busy (for Virginia City) street at the south end of town. Whitten pointed out that riders can’t even see Virginia City when they arrive there.
“They get off and, where’s the town,” he said. “It’ll be much safer and much more impressive.”
To extend the track, engineers will have to completely excavate the old tunnel, which was long ago filled in and paved over. He said the route follows E Street between St. Mary of the Mountain church and the middle school and is almost all county property. While only 440 feet long – about two and a half blocks – he said it’s a major project and a delicate one because of the historic Catholic Church just a few yards away.
“Portal to portal, it’s the lion’s share of the work,” he said.
But absolutely necessary, Whitten said.
“The depot doesn’t make much sense without the tunnel and the tunnel makes no sense without the depot,” he said.
When completed, he said, passengers riding the V&T will arrive at the old freight depot just past the state museum housing the historic V&T locomotive, the Dayton. When they look up the hill, they’ll see downtown Virginia City.
“Our overall goal is when those 210 passengers arrive in Virginia City, we want them to say, ‘Wow,'” he said.
Whitten said the V&T project is key to Virginia City’s economic future.
“I’m completely passionate about this,” he said. “I think it’s going to provide an economic boost to everything we do here.”
Over the past 15 years, the tax has generated about $2.5 million, which Whitten said helped pay for the existing track and other parts of the project.
The extended quarter-cent sales tax, he said, should generate enough money to issue $2 million in bonds for the tunnel/depot project. In addition to that, he said the county has managed to save up “some fairly significant money for capital projects” – about $1.5 million.
“These monies by statute have to go to capital projects,” Whitten said, emphasizing that Storey officials can’t use that cash for salaries or services.
In addition, he said the railway commission has agreed to return $250,000 to Storey County to help pay for the project.
Altogether, that gives Storey more than $3.5 million that Whitten expects will do the majority of the work on both the tunnel and depot. With the construction industry suffering in the recession, he expects very good bids by the end of this year.
“If the numbers come in properly, we hope to be able to acquire the depot, too,” he said.
Carson City officials are also working to find funds to extend the other end of the track. At present, the V&T runs from Virginia City to Eastgate Siding just inside Carson City’s borders but several miles from where officials want to build a depot and space for retail outlets to take economic advantage of the train.