With spring construction season approaching, the city is about to start widening a second major north-south road artery in west Omaha.
The stretch of 168th Street between West Center Road and Q Street is slated for expansion from two lanes to four. The project — which will also include new medians, street lights, traffic signals, sidewalks and curbs — will begin Monday and continue through late 2024, said Austin Rowser, assistant public works director for the City of Omaha.
Work starts the same day as a similar road expansion on 156th Street between Pacific Avenue and Wycliffe Drive, about 2 miles away.
The Public Works Department will host a preconstruction public hearing to explain and answer questions about the 168th Street project from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Hope Presbyterian Church, 5220 S. 159th Ave.
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About 500 people attended a similar hearing last Thursday about the work on 156th Street, Rowser said.
He said the 168th Street expansion will cost $32.2 million — about $12 million more than the city estimated in 2017. Federal highway funds will cover 80% of the cost, with a 20% match from the city.
Work was originally scheduled for 2021 and 2022, Rowser said, but it was delayed to complete a mandatory federal environmental review.
The work includes the widening of a bridge that crosses Zorinsky Lake and will force the closure of the portion of the bike and walking trail that runs underneath it. But the city has built temporary trail connections on the north and south ends of the bridge so hikers and bikers can continue to use it.
The Zorinsky Lake bridge underpass also is being closed to boaters for the duration of the project. But boaters who wish to use the lake’s west basin will still be able to launch from the west shore.
Traffic engineers said 168th Street, including the bridge, will remain open throughout the project, except for possible short-term spot closures.
The widening of this section of 168th Street has been in the works since 2007, according to an information sheet on the Public Works Department website. Traffic engineers spent 10 years in technical analysis and design.
In May 2017, a public hearing was held and the comments incorporated into an environmental assessment report on the project that was published later that year.
Questions and comments at the time primarily focused on the decision to install a raised median instead of a continuous center turn lane between the northbound and southbound legs, which some residents feared would limit access to neighborhoods and businesses along the route.
In their written response, city traffic engineers said medians are the safer option because they create a physical barrier between the opposing lanes and limit possible collision points. City policy is to limit median breaks on major arterial streets to one every quarter of a mile.
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