Part II: The battle of who cares most

Not enough room here last week to touch on several of what Dave Howard, public policy director for the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, calls misconceptions about the ReTRAC trench project that would lower the tracks for Union Pacific trains passing through downtown.

To recap: Recently, citizen activists who are opposed to the trench project have been circulating a petition that would allow the trench to be put to a vote during primary elections on Sept. 3. Trench construction likely will have started by then, so it’s not entirely clear what this vote would accomplish.

In early February, Howard sent out an e-mail to chamber members noting that three of the folks involved in the petition drive have all lost in city elections.

“Are we to stand idly by and allow a group of negative dissidents to again threaten the prosperity of this economy and to again pass this problem along to our children?” Howard wrote.

During a phone interview, Howard expressed annoyance over “wild accusations that keep getting ink.”

For example, it’s a misconception, he said, that the city hasn’t explored all its options. Moving the track to the Interstate 80 corridor, for example, was one of the first options looked at. The expected cost of doing this was $600 million, at least twice the anticipated trench costs.

“And the railroad said no,” Howard said. “And Saint Mary’s said [the tracks] would run right by its operating room. And the route would have dislocated 300 families.”

Building overpasses or underpasses in downtown is preposterous, he said. “All you have to do is go down to Virginia Street and look to see that it’s simply out of the question.”

Also, paying for the trench still seems to confound many Renoites. The fact is, he said, no taxes are going to be raised to pay for this project—the money’s already being collected as part of the quarter-percent sales tax increase passed by the Legislature in 1997 for use in road, flood control and fire and safety projects.

Finally, if the trench critics have some good ideas, Howard said, he wants to hear them. “I want them to tell me they understand that gaming and tourism is 40 to 45 percent of our budget here. How are they going to replace it when it dies? Do they have some people waiting with factories?”

But one of the trench critics named in Howard’s e-mail, Martha Gould, uses tourism—and also speaks of the threat of Internet and Indian gambling—in her argument against the trench.

“Do you really think tearing up downtown for three years is going to bring tourists in?” she asked. Gould, who does plenty of traveling, points out that many cities build structures right around trains.

“Wherever you go in Europe, there are hotels built over railroad stations … in London, Switzerland,” she said. “I’ve stayed in some of them.”

Gould insisted that an overpass could work. Maybe not on Virginia Street, but a few blocks east or west.

"There has to be a better solution," she said. "Anyone who knows me knows that I do my homework. I’ve followed this issue carefully, and there’s so much that bothers me."