The idea of enhancing Omaha’s transit options has been the subject of discussion for the past two decades, but over the past two-years details of the plan and efforts to secure federal funds for it have begun to come together.
Discussions center on a combination of rapid transit buses and an updated version of the 1940s streetcars that once plied Omaha streets. Various routes and combinations of bus and streetcar routes are being considered for the upgrade to Omaha’s mass transit system.
Who would benefit? Those who live, work or visit areas along the proposed routes would have an efficient alternative to using automobiles, while property owners near the routes likely would see increased values. Traffic congestion would be eased and bicyclists would even be able to take their two-wheelers onto the streetcars, or load them on the front of the sleek new buses. Reduction of automobile traffic also would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city.
Planners estimate that the transit lines could spark as much as $1 billion in new development, leading to an increase of 8,500 jobs and 3,150 residents downtown.
The proposed system, spearheaded by Omaha’s Metro transit agency, has identified bus rapid transit and modern streetcars as options for the corridor. Bus rapid transit is something of a cross between regular bus service and a streetcar, with sleek, rubber-wheeled vehicles. Modern streetcars are larger and operate on rails. Either could run in mixed traffic among other vehicles, or have its own designated lane.
The main options and routes outlined in the study are:
Bus rapid transit from downtown to 72nd and Dodge Streets and Crossroads Mall, then to Westroads Mall, by way of Dodge and Douglas Streets. Capacity would be 90 people and three bikes, serving about 1,200 new riders per day.
Bus rapid transit from downtown to 72nd and Dodge Streets and Crossroads Mall, then to Westroads Mall, by way of Farnam and Harney Streets, connecting with Dodge Street at Saddle Creek Road. Capacity would be 90 people and three bikes, serving about 1,400 new riders per day.
Modern streetcar from downtown to the University of Nebraska Medical Center by way of Farnam and Harney. The route would also run along 10th Street between the Old Market and TD Ameritrade Park. Capacity would be 160 people and six bikes, serving 1,400 new riders per day.
A fourth possible option would combine both bus rapid transit and streetcars. Streetcars would go in the downtown core. Bus rapid transit would overlap in the downtown area and stretch farther west.
A transportation connection involving Downtown, Midtown, University of Nebraska Medical Center, University of Nebraska at Omaha and the Crossroads areas would connect employment and educational hubs, residential neighborhoods, shopping areas, civic resources, historic districts, cultural landmarks and entertainment venues in central Omaha.
The total capital cost for the preferred transit alternative is approximately $170 million. The total operating cost is approximately $10 million per year. These costs may change as detailed engineering and operating plans are developed. Capital costs may include both local and federal funding. Operating costs will include local funding. Specific funding will be determined as the transit alternatives are developed.
The Metro transit authority is currently in the process of applying for a $33 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to help fund the rapid transit buses.
“There are many benefits that go beyond the pure economics, including improved quality of life and faster development and redevelopment in an area, which is a basic foundation to make an urban core more successful,” says Mike Moylan with Shamrock Development, who is involved with development in downtown Omaha. He believes “if you build it, they will ride on it.”
David J. Paladino CPM, MSRED
Landmark Group 402-672-6566
2702 Douglas St. Omaha NE 68131