Train trench symbolism

The train trench is nearing completion. Trains already are moving through downtown Reno without awakening the casinos’ guests at night. The whistles are far fewer and farther between. The media, including this one, are effusive in their praise: On time! On budget! Government oversaw a public-works project without screwing it up!

That government competently did its job probably deserves a bit of fanfare, about the noise a poker machine makes on a full house. It’s not a MegaBucks kind of event. Still, congratulations to all, particularly Granite Construction, for a job that appears well done.

And then you see a headline like the one on the front page of the Nov. 18 Reno Gazette-Journal that says it all: “First trains to roll through Reno trench today; Opening represents conclusion of long-running controversy.”

Better back that train right up.

For every single person who sees that train trench as a symbol for what government can do right, there is a person who will see that trench as an open wound representing government rolling over the will of the people.

As mentioned in the RG-J story, this project was “sold” to the people on the threat that instead of 14 trains per day, we’d have 36 trains per day clogging up traffic, blocking emergency vehicles and contributing to air pollution. It was a bald-faced lie.

Maybe when Washoe County residents are finished paying the eighth-cent sales tax increase that was railroaded though a lame-duck County Commission by commissioners who’d already been voted out of office because of their support of the train trench, maybe then, the controversy can be seen as concluded—because many of the people who so bitterly fought the trench will be dead.

It’s possible the people who were confused by the RG-J’s unwavering support for the trench—until they found out that Union Pacific Corp. Chairman and CEO Drew Lewis sat on Gannett’s board of directors—will think of the long-running controversy as concluded. More likely, it won’t be until the city government develops a track record of listening to its population.

How many projects completed for the benefit of the people will that take? Well, it’s going to take more than a skating rink on the spot that used to be occupied by the Mapes Hotel.

Think Guy Zewadski and those downtown homeowners who were levied additional property-tax bills to generate $16 million for the trench project—and have sued their government over it—believe having trains going through the 2.1-mile concrete trench soothes the impact on their personal quality of life? Think they are sleeping better in their homes because tourists are sleeping better in their hotel rooms?

There are many, many people who feel the $300 million used to construct that ditch could have been used far more effectively in other ways. Guys like Mike Robinson—who, yes, lost a mayoral election to a skilled, anointed, experienced politician like Bob Cashell—were principled in their dissent, and should have their names honored in any context in which that trench is mentioned.

Yes, when the shoofly is smoothed over, when the barricades are removed, when the traffic is running smoothly, maybe the din caused by the trench will be muted. Maybe it’ll even be moot. But, it will be a very long time before some people see the controversy of ReTRAC as “concluded.”