Long ago traffic in downtown Reno had become increasingly congested due to numerous railroad crossings.
To reduce this congestion, the City of Reno contracted to put a portion of the railroad in a depressed trench so that rail traffic could pass through the city unimpeded. The depressed portion was around 2.2 miles long, 54-foot wide and up to 35 feet deep.
There were a hundred reasons for removal of the trains rumbling through downtown emergency-vehicle access was the most important.
In 2006 Reno successfully completed a massive project to lower railroad tracks that once cut right through the heart of Reno. Even ambulances used to have to wait in downtown Reno or find alternate routes if a train was slowly crawling through the downtown area.
All of that is in the past with the ReTRAC Project, which lowered the train tracks under Lake, Center, Virginia, Arlington, Sierra, and even Keystone Ave. Incidence of delays due to train traffic has become a rare occurrence since the trench was completed.
After the project was completed, the City of Reno acquired over 100 acres of land as a result of the train trench, and now the City wants to best use and develop the land they acquired, and overall improve the entertainment and ReTRAC.
In 2020 Reno City Council approved a $130,000 cash donation from the Downtown Reno Partnership for the "ReTRAC Lid Enhancement Project." The ReTRAC Plaza between the Eldorado Casino and the Whitney Peak Hotel will be part of a beautification project that will include a new mural, 20 new trees, and more than 1,600 plants and flowers.
"In the heart of downtown next to the iconic Reno Arch, the ReTRAC lids are going from bland to brilliant," Reno City Councilmember Neoma Jardon said in a statement. "Thank you to the Downtown Reno Partnership for the generous donation. And thank you to the many volunteers who are helping to make this a vibrant, inviting destination for visitors and residents."
Customers of downtown casinos and hotels also received a major benefit from the trench's retrenchment. Whitney Peak Hotel - on the site of the former Fitzgerald's Casino & Hotel next to the tracks - has a more-pleasant sonic atmosphere for its outdoor climbing wall than it would have had if the tracks had remained on the surface.
"From a visitor's perspective, it makes a big difference when you don't have to wait 15 minutes to cross the street," said Ben McDonald, communications manager for the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority.
The trench has been finished and in operation for more than a decade, having opened on time and under budget.
Even so, the matter of the trench covers, also known as caps or lids, is an ongoing issue for that stretch from North Virginia Street to West Street.
Known as ReTRAC Plaza East and ReTRAC Plaza West, occasional reports suggest how those sections might be used for retail or other buildings. To date, no solid plan for their permanent use has come into play.
In the meantime, the lids have been devoted to a number of temporary uses: displaying art, serving as a display site for Hot August Nights and providing open space for downtown workers and visitors.
The most recent enhancement to the area came in June, when the city set up a temporary fenced-in beer garden on ReTRAC Plaza East.
"It really has dressed up that area," said Alexis Hill, Reno's arts, culture and events manager. "And then we'll be adding cafe lights to the fence in a few weeks."
And, along with the Biggest Little Dog Park Coalition, a group of downtown residents, the city also is planning a small fenced-in dog area on the ReTRAC West cover, Hill said.
In recent years, the city government has mulled over various options for the lids.
Private enterprise probably will be the force that sets the tone for what happens.