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Interim director of Omaha's Streetcar Authority hopes project is a 'fun ride'

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The newly appointed interim director of Omaha’s Streetcar Authority met with authority board members Monday for the first time.

Rick Gustafson made the trip to Omaha from Portland, Oregon, after he was hired last month as interim director. Board members hope his expertise will help move the ambitious streetcar project forward.

The Greater Omaha Chamber is providing the money for Gustafson’s pay.

By creating a streetcar board that incorporates Metro, Omaha’s transit agency, Gustafson said the streetcar board already has completed a critical step.

“Often, between development interests and the transit interests, you can have different points of view,” Gustafson said. “You’ve created this cooperative board with the real opportunity to work together to advance the agenda for transit and the agenda for Omaha’s (development).”

The transit consultant also shared next steps to be taken by the board, including the finalization of designs, determining the location of a vehicle maintenance facility and developing a public communication strategy.

“It’s very important to establish how you’re going to manage the affairs to get started,” Gustafson said. “It’s going to be an interesting and, hopefully, a fun ride for you to go through the process of putting together a project like this.”

streetcar rendering (copy)

A view of what Omaha’s planned streetcar might look like as it travels along Farnam Street.

Gustafson previously was a partner of Shiels Obletz Johnsen, a project management consultancy based in Seattle and Portland, Oregon. He has experience leading streetcar operations in Portland and has consulted on streetcar projects across the country.

As announced by Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert in January, the streetcar is proposed to operate along a 3-mile route using 5.5 track miles. The line is planned to travel along Farnam and Harney Streets from 10th Street to 42nd Street and along 10th Street between Harney and Cass Streets.

The cost of building and launching the system is estimated at $225 million, but because federal guidelines call for a 35% contingency in case of unexpected costs, the city would need to raise $306 million.

The city plans to issue special revenue bonds and private placement bonds to pay for the system’s construction. The buyers of those bonds will be repaid using money generated by a tax-increment financing district that will run along the streetcar route.

The Streetcar Authority was created this spring to oversee the design, construction and eventual operation of the streetcar.

The board is made up of seven members: three appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council, three appointed by Metro transit’s CEO and one community member appointed by the Greater Omaha Chamber.

jwade@owh.com, 402-444-1067

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Jessica covers city issues for The World-Herald, including public parks, transportation, Omaha City Council and the Mayor's Office. Follow her on Twitter @Jess_Wade_OWH. Phone: 402-444-1067

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