RENO/TAHOE - At age 79, Don Minoli isn't about to dream small dreams.
The retired real estate developer is buttonholing government officials and business executives in northern Nevada and California, pitching his next big idea: A 150-mile monorail loop linking Reno, Carson City, South Lake Tahoe and Truckee as it travels around Lake Tahoe.
He says the monorail, traveling along precast, T-shaped concrete 20 feet above ground, would dramatically reduce traffic into the Tahoe Basin, thereby reducing air pollution.
It's possible the monorail would become a tourist attraction in its own right, says Minoli, especially if food and beverage service was available on each train.
He envisions 14 stops at locations such as the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, downtown South Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley and Truckee.
"This is not a streetcar," he explains. "It doesn't stop at every corner." At major stops, Minoli says it's possible that retail development and electric-car rentals could follow.
Environmental concerns? His proposed route travels across public lands and public right-of-way on the east side of the loop, but he acknowledges environmental challenges could delay the final phase of construction along the west side of Lake Tahoe.
Six monorail trains, each reaching maximum speeds of 60 miles an hour, would be needed to provide hourly departures from locations on the monorail loop.
The cost? After talking with monorail-car maker Bombardier Inc. and estimating other expenses, Minoli says he figures construction of the system would cost about $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion, and that figure doesn't include acquisition of right-of-way.
He acknowledges that the cost almost certainly couldn't be covered by fare receipts, even if the federal government provided a no-interest loan to finance construction.
Instead, Minoli figures the two state governments would own the system as a public benefit, then lease it to a private entity that would operate the monorail.
Along with the potential boost to construction employment in the region, a monorail could help revitalize the gaming and tourism sectors at Reno and Lake Tahoe, Minoli says.
So far, he's drawn some interest from Bombardier as well as NV Energy, which would supply power for the monorail.
National and state officials, Minoli says, have been slower to respond during the six months he's been working on the concept. Now he's trying to drum up public support for the idea to move elected officials along. Minoli's cut for coming up with the idea? A 5 percent interest in the completed project.
"I'm worth it if I make this project happen," he says.