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Omaha Streetcar Authority OKs updated route concept near riverfront

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Mayor Jean Stothert and Mutual of Omaha CEO James Blackledge announce plans for a new Mutual of Omaha headquarters skyscraper on the site of the current downtown library. The plans also include building a three-mile streetcar system that would run from the riverfront to the Nebraska Medical Center. Photographed at the Omaha-Douglas Civic Center in Omaha on Wednesday, January 26, 2022.

The route concept for Omaha’s future streetcar system was approved Monday after a change was made at the eastern end of the route in downtown Omaha.

The Omaha Streetcar Authority voted to approve a route concept that, according to a map outline, would see streetcars run east along Harney Street and then turn north along 10th Street up to about Cass Street near the CHI Health Center. The streetcars then would head back south on 10th to Capitol Avenue.

From there, as approved Monday, the route would run a couple of blocks east to Eighth Street near the city’s riverfront before turning west onto Farnam Street. The cars then would travel to the route’s western terminus at 42nd Street near the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

As proposed, the streetcar system would have 6.16 miles of track, but a round trip would be about 3.1 miles. City documents show that it would take about 30 minutes for a streetcar to complete the route.

Jay Noddle, president of the Streetcar Authority, said the approved route would minimize traffic congestion by diverting southbound streetcars east to Eighth Street. Previously, one proposed route had both northbound and southbound streetcars traveling along busy 10th Street.

As of now, Noddle said, the streetcar project is estimated to cost $356 million and is on track to be operational in 2026. He added that cost estimates will be updated in a few months when a contractor is hired and more design work is completed.

The construction of an Omaha streetcar system is tied to Mutual of Omaha’s plans to build a $600 million headquarters on the site of the W. Dale Clark library, which is to be torn down.

Mutual officials have said the streetcar system is critical to their plans to construct the company’s headquarters. Not only does Mutual value having its new building on the streetcar line, but the streetcar system is thought to enhance the value of the redevelopment of Mutual’s current midtown campus, a factor that helps make the pricey project work financially.

The streetcar route has drawn some concerns. Monday, Creighton University researchers highlighted more than one dozen points of conflict between the streetcar route and the city’s bicycle network, including areas where the streetcar route would intersect with bike pathways.

To that end, Ryan Wishart, a Creighton assistant professor and sociology program director who is the report’s main author, wants the Streetcar Authority to align the streetcar’s implementation with an active transportation plan and ensure zero traffic deaths under the city’s Vision Zero initiative.

“There are really important plans being created by the city around bikes and pedestrians and Vision Zero,” Wishart told The World-Herald. “We want to make sure those plans don’t have to try to be implemented around the streetcar. Rather, the streetcar process will be integrating those plans and those priorities.”

Noddle said authority board members will begin to think through the right-of-way design, especially as it pertains to pedestrians, bicyclists, loading docks and other transportation issues. Noddle said the board’s action to approve the route was necessary so the design team from HDR could begin to focus on specific areas.

“It’s very much a beginning,” he said.

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