Somewhere over the train tracks

To build a road that would take real cars over or under trains chugging through downtown Reno is tricky on most any street. Sometimes entire hotels would have to go away to make room for a road that goes up, up and over a 23-foot train, and then down, down at a steep 6 percent grade. Or to make room for frontage roads in the case of underpasses.

To build a safe underpass on, say, Center Street, would require full acquisition of Harrah’s, adding about $100 million to the Reno Railroad Corridor Project price tag, joked the city’s environmental consultant Mark DeMuth. At a Reno City Council meeting Tuesday, DeMuth rehashed alternatives to digging a big ditch through downtown to accommodate expected increases in train traffic.

Building on Center Street wouldn’t do a darn thing for the noise or pedestrian problem on North Virginia Street. So build over the tracks on North Virginia? Obviously a ludicrous idea—and DeMuth has a slide show to prove it.

“This is my favorite,” DeMuth said of a graphic depicting the view outside of Fitzgerald’s in the event an overpass was built. The slide shows a few feet of sidewalk, then a hideous concrete wall. The overpass would be eight feet from Fitzgerald’s front door. What a view.

Mayor Jeff Griffin wondered: Could a more beautiful overpass be constructed? Sure. A lovely cantilevered bridge could be built, at a significantly higher cost.

“All of these [projections] presume the cheapest mode of construction,” DeMuth said, likening the overpass to a dirt-filled concrete freeway onramp.

Build under North Virginia?

“Notice the buildings disappearing,” DeMuth said, showing a graphic with all the buildings on the Harrah’s side of the street gone. But don’t worry about the Reno Arch, he added: “It could be relocated somewhere that doesn’t require an underpass.”

The city council offered no additional comments Tuesday on the final Environmental Impact Statement, conducted by the Federal Highway Administration. Though the Washoe County Commission is asking the FHWA to do an additional cost and benefit analysis of building a “less grandiose” project, featuring a few underpasses and overpasses, it’s pretty clear that the city thinks it has a good case for a trench. All they need now is half a dozen shovels to start digging.

Building over or under three intersections could be entirely funded from the $86 million or so collected in 30 years’ worth of county sales and room taxes. But the project would get no federal funding or financial assistance from Union Pacific. And DeMuth argued that it’s only a temporary fix.

“You’d only get the benefits at those three crossings,” he said. “There’s no noise reduction … and it’s only a 20- to 30-year fix, at best. You’d have spent everything you have, and it’d be outgrown.”

Want to register your opinion or ask a question? The public comment period on the final EIS ends Tuesday. The FHWA will make a decision on the EIS in mid-February.