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Bill would fund study of high-speed commuter rail between Omaha and Lincoln
Nebraska Legislature

Bill would fund study of high-speed commuter rail between Omaha and Lincoln

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One bill would fund study of high-speed commuter rail between Omaha and Lincoln; a second deals with catalytic converters; and two others consider school rules.

Imagine Husker fans walking into a game without first braving bumper-to-bumper traffic, commuters zipping home to Omaha after wrapping up work in Lincoln, grandparents who can no longer drive but still visit their out-of-town grandkids with ease.

Those are among the scenarios Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln imagines as possibilities if a high-speed commuter rail were to connect Nebraska’s two biggest cities.

But the first step, he said, is a feasibility study.

Morfeld introduced Legislative Bill 991 on Wednesday to put $500,000 from the state’s general fund toward a Department of Transportation study of a high-speed commuter rail service. The study would include cost estimates, timelines and economic impacts.

“Overwhelmingly, I hear from young Nebraskans, middle-aged Nebraskans and older Nebraskans alike that they would like to have more high-speed rail opportunities,” he said. “Particularly between Omaha and Lincoln, but in other parts of the state, as well.”

He predicts a rail service spanning the roughly 55 miles that separate Omaha and Lincoln would be a “game-changer” in attracting better jobs, young people and people of all ages with mobility issues.

“This is gonna make it so that arts, entertainment, sports and even our families become more accessible to people between the metro areas,” he said.

In 1999, the Legislature created a Nebraska Transit and Rail Advisory Council to look at transportation demand and commuter needs, and then-Gov. Mike Johanns appointed its membership.

The group, with the help of a federal grant and consultants, conducted a study published in 2003. It found a commuter rail between Omaha and Lincoln could generate between 129,000 and 185,000 passenger trips in 2010, with only weekday service — more if they added special trips for Husker football games.

The study found costs to make improvements to existing tracks and stations would be about $79 million and operating subsidies would cost about $4 million.

Morfeld introduced a similar bill in 2020 that didn’t make it out of the Appropriations Committee. In his testimony that year, he said the BNSF rail lines, which would have to improve to accommodate the system, had been updated since that estimate, saving potential costs.

The state’s revenue situation this year has him optimistic.

Aside from the $1.04 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money legislators are looking to spend, there’s $412 million in unexpected state general fund revenues, and the state’s cash reserve fund is expected to have nearly $1.5 billion by the end of the budget period.

“I’m gonna work really hard to get this included in the budget,” Morfeld said.

Other bills introduced Wednesday include:

A new crime. LB 990 from Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair and 31 cosponsors of all political stripes would make “stolen valor” a Class I misdemeanor.

Under the bill, a person would be guilty of stolen valor if they fraudulently represent themselves as an active member or veteran of the military or as a recipient of honors such as a Purple Heart or the Congressional Medal of Honor, with the intent to get money, property or some other tangible benefit and they obtain a benefit.

Catalytic converters. A bill from Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha would require secondary metals recyclers to collect the vehicle identification number, year, make and model of the vehicle from which a person obtained a catalytic converter before they turn it in.

It would also require recyclers to keep catalytic converters in the condition in which they’re purchased for five business days. Thefts of catalytic converters have risen sharply in recent years in Omaha and across Nebraska.

School rules. Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard introduced LB 1001, which would require school terms for school districts and educational service units to begin after Labor Day and end before Memorial Day, aside from summer school and extracurricular activities.

LB 997, from Sen. Jen Day of Omaha, would have school boards require students to be screened for autism spectrum disorder before entering school.


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