On the crazy train

Cars sped down Center Street during the evening commute Tuesday, mostly ignoring the signs and shouts of carpenter union members demonstrating in support of the city’s ReTrac project.

“What do we want?”


“When do we want it?”


“We’re out here to show our support for the project because we need the jobs in this area,” one union member said. The project includes digging a 2.1-mile trench through downtown Reno to accommodate what the city says will be a dramatic increase in Union Pacific train traffic through the area. The city estimates the project will cost $218 million, though critics have said cost overruns could at least double that figure.

The Reno City Council took up the ReTrac issue about 10 minutes late. They’d been discussing parks and a new court building.

The proceedings began with Councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza-Hogan reading a longish disclosure statement about how she felt she could still vote even though her husband is employed at the Men’s Club. The topless nightclub is located along the railroad tracks, and the ReTrac project would force it to relocate.

During public comment, citizen activist Sam Dehné surprised many with a thumbs-up for ReTrac.

“I support this project because I don’t want the money already collected to go to any more of the City Council’s skullduggery,” he said.

Insurance broker Mike Robinson, who was passing out literature criticizing the project, said of Dehné: “I wish he’d brought his guitar.”

The rest of the meeting went predictably. By voting 4-2 to proceed with the trench project, the council narrowed down the number of contractors bidding on the project from seven to four. Detailed descriptions of the project will be delivered to the four contractors by Jan. 16, and proposals are due back from the contractors by mid-May.

Before the vote, Sferrazza– Hogan, who voted along with Councilwoman Toni Harsh to oppose moving forward—Councilman Dave Rigdon, a trench critic, was out sick—said she wasn’t sure if this would be a labor project. The project is expected to create 4,000 jobs during two years of construction.

“We all remember what happened with the movie theater,” she said, referring to the numerous labor disputes with contractors.

And business analyst Frank Partlow painted a new picture of doom and gloom if the train trench wasn’t built.

"The entire railway could be a potential target for catastrophic, hazardous cargo-train derailing caused by terrorists or kooks," he said.