Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011 | 8 p.m.
Beyond the Sun
It’s the type of small, family-run store that isn’t often seen today — all it sells is shoes, and mostly to senior citizens.
Cesar’s Shoe World hopes to benefit from a project to add bus lanes to Sahara Avenue that will also add sidewalks and landscaping to the busy corridor outside the store, but first it has to survive the construction.
“I think it’s the greatest thing that can happen in the city, however, it affects all the business people from Hualapai (Way) to Boulder Highway,” owner Cesar Galindo said. “Business is bad right now and with so much construction going on, it is going to affect us even more.”
Galindo was just a teen when he started selling shoes in Las Vegas 56 years ago. He opened his own store on Maryland Parkway in 1970. In 1983, he moved to Sahara Avenue near Eastern Avenue, building a store in what was then the desert on the edge of town.
Today, Galindo is 70 years old and refuses to retire until he is “6 feet under.” His store is in an aging neighborhood in the middle of the valley, and Sahara Avenue is one of the heaviest traveled and least attractive arterial roads around.
The Regional Transportation Commission hopes its Sahara Express bus project will not only provide better transit service but revitalize the corridor.
“When we’re done with this project, people are going to drive along this road and they’re going to remark to themselves, ‘Boy, this really is a beautiful corridor,’” said RTC General Manager Jacob Snow.
Work on the project began Feb. 7, but Snow and other local and federal officials held a kickoff for the project Thursday across the street for Cesar’s Shoe World.
“Hopefully it will bring some life back into this end of the world,” said Suzanne Fox, who helps her father run the shoe store and hopes she can work there until she retires. “I think once we get through the situation, it’s going to be a nice transit service here.”
The project is also good news for the 500 construction workers who will be employed for the next year, but it comes at a hard time for Galindo and other business owners who have been dealing with a down economy.
“I think this will be an improvement, a considerable improvement, but at the wrong time in the economy,” Galindo said. “It sure is going to beautify Sahara Avenue and we need it. But I’m just concerned about my business and if we’re going to be able to survive.”
Transit officials and politicians promise the construction headaches will be worth it when the project is done early next year.
“It’s going to improve property values and make people want to live here,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at Thursday’s event.
The project will convert most of the shoulder of Sahara Avenue to bus-only lanes and add landscaping, wider sidewalks and traffic signal upgrades.
The new bus line will be faster and more convenient for residents, officials said, and it will tie into the RTC’s other express lines, including the Strip & Downtown Express and the under-construction Boulder Highway Express. It will also connect to the Las Vegas Monorail near the Strip.
The project was one of 51 selected for a TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, receiving $34.4 million for the $40 million project.
“The RTC had to compete in probably the most rigorous competition the DOT has ever had for these funds,” said Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff at the event.
The federal government had about $1.5 billion available for transportation projects, for which it received 1,400 requests totaling $60 billion, he said.
“But President Obama’s team selected this project first and foremost because we knew Nevada very much needed the jobs,” Rogoff said.
“This was also a visionary project, a project that can really transform theses neighborhoods,” he said. “And importantly, it’s not our vision; this project wasn’t concocted in Washington, D.C. This project was developed and designed right here in Las Vegas. What the Recovery Act did is take that vision and turn it into a real project with real jobs and real promise.”
The Sahara Express project is one of a number of bus rapid transit projects in Las Vegas, an example of how popular bus rapid transit systems have become across the country.
After visiting Las Vegas, Rogoff said, he is traveling to El Paso, Texas, to tour another bus rapid transit project.
“It gets you quite a lot of transit at a very affordable price for the taxpayer,” Rogoff said in an interview after the event. “It’s very cost effective, especially in a corridor like this one where you have room to create bus lanes without taking away from existing traffic lanes.”
The first express lines in Las Vegas were billed as a cheaper alternative to light rail. While some state legislators still want light rail in Las Vegas, Rogoff said the costs involved make the bus alternative more attractive.
“The real challenge when you’re launching light rail in a city for the first time is having the technical expertise to do it (and) also having the considerable local match that is needed from a funding perspective,” he said. “And there is also a more expensive maintenance requirement going forward, and the taxpayers need to be willing to budget for that.”
In the meantime, Rogoff said, he is sure this project will revitalize the area.
“This project is really going to improve the quality of life for the residents of this community,” he said. “It’s going to do great things for the businesses all along this corridor.”
The folks at Cesar’s Shoe World hope he is right.
“We’re looking forward to better business. Things have been tough for the last three years,” Galindo said.