Two long-discussed, multimillion-dollar recreational trails that will provide critical links in their communities are in development in and around the Omaha area.
The proposed North Omaha Trail, located along U.S. Highway 75, will be a hike-bike trail and will provide an important access point in the area.
The Platte River Bridge Trail will be a recreational pedestrian trail south of Omaha along U.S. Highway 34/75.
The North Omaha Trail will begin at Lake Street and end at Sprague Street, spanning about 2 miles.
The trail will serve both a recreational and a pragmatic purpose, easily connecting the North Omaha Transit Center, 4200 N. 30th St., to the rest of the area. Other community anchors include the Paxton Boulevard trail, the Kennedy Square redevelopment and the 24th and Lake Historic District.
It also would be within walking distance of multiple schools, the Great Plains Black History Museum, Heart Ministry Center, the Union for Contemporary Art, the North Omaha Salvation Army office at 24th and Pratt Streets and other community resources.
The City of Omaha is working with the nonprofit Spark CDI to put the plan into action.
Manuel Cook, project lead at Spark CDI and a former planner for the city, said the trail is needed to address the area’s lack of investment in public health infrastructure and redlining, or the refusal to grant loans or invest in areas considered to be a financial risk.
“The disinvestment that you see because of redlining also extended to public investments in a major way — trails being one of them, parks, all that,” Cook said. “I’m from North Omaha, so I saw and felt the need for it.”
The North Omaha Trail has been included in multiple city planning documents since 2007.
Cook said that mobility justice, the right of people to have safe, equal access to different areas, is another factor behind the trail.
“This increases your mobility, access to things. It’s flat. People ride bikes and walk to places, and this is a safe infrastructure project,” he said. “You can connect people — there’s a lot of schools, things like that, that it connects.”
The project, which is expected to cost $2.8 million, is out for bid. Cook said trail construction is expected to begin this summer and conclude by spring 2022.
Funding for the project will come from the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District — which is contributing $292,000 — and local philanthropic organizations, including the Sherwood Foundation, which also plans to establish an endowment to pay for maintenance once the trail is complete.
Future phases could extend the trail to the riverfront or through Fontenelle Park.
To the south, the Platte River Bridge Trail will provide pedestrian access over the river along U.S. Highway 34/75.
The $2.6 million project is a collaboration between the Papio-Missouri NRD, Sarpy County and the City of Bellevue on the north side of the Platte River and the Lower Platte South NRD, Cass County and the City of Plattsmouth on the south side of the river. The six entities are providing 20% of the funding, while the remainder is coming from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Eric Williams, natural resources planner for the Papio-Missouri NRD, said the project has been in the works for 20 years.
“The first step was when the highway bridge across the river was constructed. The piers on the highway bridge were intentionally widened on the east side in order to allow a trail to be added to the bridge at a later date,” he said.
Construction of the trail deck is expected to begin in summer 2022.
The trail, which will start at Beach Road and end at Allied Road, will fill a gap in pedestrian access. Currently, the Lied Bridge by South Bend is the only way for pedestrians to safely cross the Platte River, Williams said. That bridge sits 16 miles to the west of where the Platte River Bridge Trail will travel.
“There are no other structures that are specifically designed for people to use active transportation, or to enjoy recreation across the Platte River, so that’s what makes this a regionally significant project,” he said.
The project enjoys support from local residents, who have voiced enthusiasm for the proposal over the years, Williams said. Since a public comment period opened May 12, the NRD has received one letter and three emails supporting the project.
“They feel this is a vital connection that isn’t currently available, and they’re glad to see it,” he said.
The public comment period for the Platte River Bridge Trail plan is open until June 10. The comment form, along with a fact sheet and other documents, can be found at papionrd.org.