Trench tennis

An interesting game of e-mail tennis broke out during the last couple of weeks regarding what the proposed train trench project through downtown Reno will cost.

The serve-and-volley match started Jan. 28, when two of the trench project’s most fervent critics—Washoe County Commissioner Jim Galloway and former Reno City Council candidate Michael Robinson—sent an e-mail to reporters, City Council members and others.

Galloway and Robinson claimed that the trench costs were grossly underestimated at $218 million by the city’s engineering firm, the Nolte Engineering Group. The two provided an alternate estimate of $433 million, a figure which includes $67 million for “business disruption.”

Galloway and Robinson also estimated that the city’s projection was short $65 million for a slurry wall and other construction items, $25 million for water table impact mitigation and $36 million for operating and mitigating costs for 30 years.

Reno City Councilman Dave Aiazzi responded with an e-mail to the same group the following day, asking the two to itemize and explain their $433 million estimate.

“The Nolte Team has … testified it has spent over 50,000 PROFESSIONAL man-hours on their evaluation,” Aiazzi wrote. “Please, if I am to take either of you seriously, please provide me with similar information.”

On Feb. 5, the two responded to Aiazzi’s request, explaining each item of their estimate.

“Some advocates for this project have said that this project is necessary for Reno’s survival, but we do not agree—especially since good alternatives are available at far less cost,” Robinson and Galloway wrote.

Galloway later followed up with an e-mail to the group accusing city staff members of inaccuracies in trench information.

What does all of this mean? That’s one helluva question, without very many clear answers.

However, one thing is extremely clear: These numbers people are throwing around are only estimates. Nobody really knows how much the trench will cost, and nobody will know until the thing is done (assuming it ever gets started). Considering that there are some real warning signs out there regarding Reno’s economy—signs of a nationwide slowdown, Indian and online gaming and the teetering status of some major downtown casinos—the City Council would be smart to hold off on green-lighting the train trench until everybody is absolutely sure the city will be able to afford it.

And right now, if you strapped lie detectors to each of the council members, I doubt they’d be able to passably say that they are completely sure the city can afford the ReTRAC project.

This is not a project that can be taken lightly. It has the potential to help the city—but it also has the potential to bankrupt the city if it’s not done right. And as long as there’s any potential for that to happen, the city should not move forward.

If you watch television with any frequency, you’ve probably noticed an increasing number of anti-smoking commercials, primarily aimed at teens, which are being paid for by Phillip Morris Co.

I think this is dumb. Follow my logic here:

· Cigarette companies are prohibited from doing TV advertisements that promote their products.

· Studies have shown that warning labels, at best, have little or no effect on getting people not to smoke or to quit smoking.

· There’s an old public relations axiom: Any publicity is good publicity.

Seeing as warnings do no good, what are these commercials by Phillip Morris accomplishing? Well, for one thing, they’re getting teens to think about smoking. For another, they’re getting the company’s name out there.

In other words, it looks to me like the tobacco industry has found a way to advertise on television. Sneaky, eh?