The buzz in the trenches

So building a 2.25-mile depressed trench for rail traffic through the downtown corridor is the best idea since individually wrapped mint-flavored toothpicks. Or it’s the worst idea since low-flow toilets. It’ll either heal our economically troubled village and usher in a new era of untold tourism bounty or it will be another nail in the coffin of downtown Reno.

But that’s not the point.

It’s not about the threat of legal gaming in California or about some 10,000 jobs that may or may not be created by the trench project. It’s not about the accuracy of the $218 million cost projection.

The point is that a big project is in the works, an unprecedented project for Renoites. In several polls, a majority of voters say they have some problems with the trench project. Some trench critics admit they don’t know nearly enough to make an informed decision. Others believe it’s a complete waste of money and need no more details.

While it’s true that staffers for the city of Reno have looked at the options, reviewed the environmental impact statement and have chosen to plow forward with the project, it’s obvious that the public isn’t completely buying into the plan.

That’s made evident by the number of folks willing to give up their free time to distribute petitions calling for a public vote on the ReTRAC project. Activists like former Reno City Council candidate Mike Tracy and dozens of others have pledged to do whatever’s necessary to collect the 9,011 signatures needed to force the ReTRAC project to be put to a public vote in September.

The petition drive makes trench supporters nervous. The Reno Gazette-Journal tells readers that voting against the trench would leave Renoites back at square one with no solution for train traffic through downtown Reno. Local government analyst Frank Partlow says that the initiative petition is a “real threat” to Reno’s future.

Why are these folks so worried?

Maybe it’s because a few individuals have decided what’s best for Reno—whether the rest of us like it or not. Perhaps it seems that the voters, like toddlers, must be forced to take the prescribed medicine that will heal all that ails downtown Reno.

But voters are not children who can’t sort through details and make an informed decision.

If enough folks sign these petitions, we will vote on the trench. Before September, the city will have a chance to make its case, to show us that the money for the project is available now, via funds from Union Pacific and from the federal government, in a way that it never will be again. Advocates can demonstrate the need, the benefits—the problem that we’ll leave to our children if we don’t proceed with the trench.

If this informational campaign is successful, then the city doesn’t need to fear a thing. We’ll gladly vote to support the trench and thank officials for the chance to be heard.

But if voters can’t be convinced, then the city needs to check its shovels at the door and move on.