Nebraska lawmaker seeks public funding for Omaha streetcar – if it expands north towards airport

This story was originally published in the Nebraska Examiner.

LINCOLN. The controversial Omaha streetcar project could receive $100 million from Nebraska under a plan presented to the Legislature, that is, if the route is extended to North Omaha and the airport.

The measure, presented Friday by Omaha State Senator Justin Wayne of Omaha to the Legislative Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, requires public funds to build and operate a streetcar that will connect to Eppley Airfield.

Who is in and who is not

Essentially, Wayne said, his Bill 477 is a way of pressuring the city of Omaha to push the over $300 million streetcar project through less prosperous areas and to the airport, and also “set some standards for who gets on to the project.” and who isn’t.”

“Let me be clear, in the beginning I was against the streetcar,” Wayne said. “For me personally, this is a compromise to figure out how we can take the currently proposed tram and improve it, and work on public transport in the process.”

Currently, the Main Streetcar Corridor, approved by the Omaha City Council and Mayor Jean Stothert, carries the planned state-of-the-art streetcar from downtown to downtown along Farnam and Harney Streets. There are several lots in a north-south direction along 8th and 10th streets in downtown.

Details of the new north extension have yet to be worked out, but two Omaha city officials have spoken out in support of the bill and its concept.

State Senator Christy Armendaris said she lived along the proposed extended route. (Courtesy of Armendariz Campaign)

“The expansion will help spur development in a larger area and connect more people to downtown jobs and new employment centers in North Omaha,” Steve Jensen, deputy chief of economic development, told the mayor.

Also spoke out for another Omaha economic development assistant, Jacqueline Morrison.

Second act

Wayne described his proposal as “Part II” of the Economic Recovery Act, which the Legislature passed last year as Bill 1024. Called a historic investment in the state’s poorest areas, the package earmarked $335 million primarily for North and South Omaha.

The big piece, $60 million, is for a future business park near Eppley Airfield.

Wayne said his broader idea is for the streetcar route to extend north from Farnham and 19th Streets — and into a future business park he expects to develop near 16th and Locust Streets. It represents the route continuing towards the airport.

Jensen and Morrison agreed to some extent.

“Along with federal funding, this (LB 477) will allow the system to expand through the heart of North Omaha and into developments driven by last year’s LB 1024,” Jensen said.

He and Morrison said in an interview after the hearing that it is still unclear how far north the route could go, even with state and federal funding and funding from tax revenues.

affordable housing

They said the line could certainly stretch into the “heart of North Omaha”, reaching 16th Street and Locust Street. Coordination and discussion should also include subway transit so as not to disrupt his plans for public transport in the area.

Let me explain, at first I was an opponent of the tram.

— State Senator Justin Wayne of Omaha

Wayne said another key goal is to see how the streetcar project will help address the city’s needs for affordable housing.

He said the accompanying bill, proposed by State Senator Terrell McKinney, would also achieve that goal.

The Appropriations Committee did not decide to move LB 477 to full legislative debate.

Several asked questions, including State Senator Kristi Armendaris of Omaha, who said she lived in the area of ​​the proposed expansion.

Selling point for skeptics?

The concern, according to Armendaris, is the possibility that the route will not reach the airport.

State Senator Steve Erdman of Bayard (Courtesy of the Unicameral Information Bureau)

“I’m excited to see how this ends,” she said.

Senator Anna Wishart of Lincoln said she sees the benefits of a streetcar that will transport people between the airport and downtown, especially during events like the College World Series.

State Senator Steve Erdman of Bayard asked if the streetcar project would be self-sustaining. The city said an independent consultant advised that the expected TIF revenue streams to be used to pay off the bonds would be more than enough for the first downtown phase.

Jensen said the study found the streetcar project’s “basic system” could help pay for expansion to Omaha North and South, the airport, the zoo and Aksarben Village. However, it will require federal dollars and other funding, he said.

Wayne said he spoke to at least one business group on the proposed extended route and the concept was received positively.

He suspects that many skeptics would change their minds about the Omaha streetcar project if the route were extended beyond the city center route.

“If we can get a northern line, that makes sense,” he said.

A map of the Omaha streetcar, the proposed northern expansion of the airport, as envisaged by State Senator Justin Wayne, is in dark blue. (Courtesy of State Senator Justin Wayne)

The Nebraska Examiner is part of Newsroom States, a network of newsrooms supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. The Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. For questions, please contact editor Keith Folsom: [email protected] Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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