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Old 12-17-2009, 04:45 PM
 
Location: Omaha Nebraska and dreamland when I am sleeping
3,096 posts, read 6,461,127 times
Reputation: 524

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I BTW wish city leaders were as passionate with fixing the bus system as they are wanting our town to have a beltway system

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TheReader.com | Omaha Weekly Reader

Omaha planners and engineers say a major highway encircling the metro is inevitable

by Ben Hankey

Just as Americans take pride in their automobiles, inhabitants of major American cities take pride in their highways. Highly iconic status goes to the Washington, D.C. Beltway, Atlanta’s Perimeter, and Kansas City’s I-435, thought to be the fourth-longest beltway in the world.

In a sprawling metropolis, suburban commuters rarely find open road on multi-hour drives to work. And although Omaha traffic isn’t as congested as L.A., D.C., or Chicago, engineers and city planners are looking ahead.

“Transportation, traffic is a quality of life thing,” said Matt Tondl of HDR Engineering. “Omaha has this going for it … but congestion is and will continue to be a problem.”

How much of a problem? According to a cooperative study, paid for by the Omaha-Council Bluffs Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA), by the year 2035 (accounting for current transportation projects) average travel speeds will drop by 20 percent. This means that, if no additional highways are built, an average Omahan’s 20-minute commute will take 25 minutes, amounting to a $727 dollars increase in annual travel costs per commuter household.

The Omaha-Council Bluffs Metro Beltway Feasibility Study was released last March. It recommends construction of an “inner loop” beltway to encircle Omaha via Bennington, Elkhorn, Waterloo, and Council Bluffs. It would break ground in 2030, extend about 130 miles, and would cost taxpayers an estimated $700 to $750 million. The study predicts drivers would save nine cents per mile on the average commute. According to Tondl, the beltway “needs to be adopted into [MAPA’s] long-range transportation plan,” a view which seems to be shared by several key players in city planning.

Jay Palu, of the local community action group VOICE, is not sold on the beltway proposal. Palu said the study’s vision “misses other segments about what a city needs.”

“I’m not a traffic expert, but transportation is multi-faceted and it’s not just about travel times.” Palu said. “That the beltway should be built is not a foregone conclusion.”

Beltway planners and HDR engineers disagree.

“We can’t ignore something that we’ll need in the future,” said Paul Mullen of MAPA. “We recognize that the city is going to grow and expand and the beltway will be necessary.”

Planners considered three alternatives to the beltway: radial freeways, one entering Omaha from the Northwest and another from the South; an enhanced arterial network of widened highways and added “corridors,” and a light rail system. The study prioritized the beltway because of its cost and perceived ability to alleviate traffic.

Opponents say the beltway would be a detriment to Omaha.

Marty Shukert of RDG Planning and Design, and former Omaha city planning director, believes a beltway would lessen population density, spreading the city too far West.
“I believe it’s an enormous investment of money, that we don’t have, in a project that will cost us more money in the long run,” he said. “That’s not the direction that we should be going in … People stuck in traffic at a suburban intersection would think that this problem would be solved with a beltway. It would not; it would actually be worse. It doesn’t improve traffic. Look at D.C., Kansas City. [Beltways] never solve the problem because they pull development away from the city which loads the beltway with traffic, relocates problems and makes them worse.”

Kansas City built its monumental beltway in 1986. For years, sections of the road remained on the far outskirts of the city. The city didn’t expand evenly as the beltway encouraged more commercial suburban growth away from downtown.

“For a resident of central Omaha a beltway does absolutely no good,” Shukert said. “It might actually be a detriment because it takes something that is right next door and moves it 10 miles out into the country. In fact, this creates greater inefficiency. It creates more miles to travel.”

Mullen does not dismiss the argument, but defends the beltway project working in tandem with other transportation options. “Density and beltways are not mutually exclusive,” he said. “Boston has beltways … Even in a very dense city, you still have up to 90 percent of your traffic driving vehicles. So we need to be looking at how can you do both. If you build a beltway, or even a partial beltway, you have to make sure that the land use that you have out there is consistent with the land uses that you have in other parts of the metropolitan area and that you don’t encourage existing ‘suburban sprawl’ if you want to use that term.”

Will the beltway encourage Omaha to ‘sprawl’? “Totally,” said Shukert.

The beltway discussion, in many ways, raises questions about effective public transportation. The Beltway Feasibility Study said Omaha’s bus system moves about half of a percent of Omaha traffic. In Portland, that number is around eight percent, in New York City, 10. “Public transportation is a problem now,” said Palu, “and I think it’s a priority to include low-income, working poor people with no cars into the discussion. How would the beltway benefit them?”

At a public discussion held last October, Mullen was asked if poorer neighborhoods, such as North Omaha, were considered in the planning of a beltway. “To be completely honest,” said Mullen “no … That is something that we want to look at, but we want to focus on the growth of the major metropolitan area.”

One positive aspect of investing money in a denser downtown with better public transportation, according to Palu, would be the retention of a young, professional, “creative” class. “A city, especially one that hopes to attract and retain a creative core of young professionals must provide a dynamic urban center,” he said. “ A key is to provide a district that can meet the needs of young professionals for space at prices that free them to focus on pursuing creative endeavors. That is a substantially different set of values from what has produced the suburban neighborhoods of the last few decades.”

Tondl and Mullen agree that public transportation needs to have a future in Omaha. However, both would like to see results of a comprehensive study before moving forward. “We acknowledge that transit makes a difference,” said Mullen. “We’re just saying that sometime, regardless of what we’re going to do out there, we’re going to have a need for a beltway.

Beltway opponents say despite support for public transportation, they are not “anti-car.”

“The point is not to be anti-car, but anti-dispersion,” said Shukert. “Increasing density somewhat would be a good thing. A project like a beltway is fundamentally at odds with Midtown Crossing and development projects in the downtown area.”

Palu also hopes that Omahans don’t become entrenched in pro-car/anti-car labeling, lest the city fall into “old thinking” that would hurt Omaha in the long-term.

The beltway idea has been kicked around MAPA and in various urban planning circles for some 10 years. Mullen said it really took hold when a proposed study was brought to the Douglas County Stakeholders Meeting in 2005 and in 2007. County Engineer Tom Doyle, then pitched it to the Board of Commissioners in order to fund MAPA’s study.

Critics and opponents agree public input is needed before moving forward, especially considering the cost of the project and the perceived lack of funds available from the Nebraska Department of Roads.

“We don’t have the money to build it,” said Mullen. “It’s $750 million that we don’t have. Those are all policy decisions that need to be made. What we go with needs to be unified by the public who say ‘This is what we want to look like, this is what we want our transportation system to be.’”

Officials say the beltway wouldn’t break ground for at least 20 years. Because of its scope, officials in multiple counties in Nebraska and Iowa need to agree on the beltway and its route. VOICE is holding a public forum next month to discuss it, and leaders stress that the public dialogue is far from finished.

“Change is what we’re looking at today,” said Mullen, “and we need to be sure that we’re doing what the community wants.”
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Old 12-17-2009, 08:35 PM
 
494 posts, read 909,396 times
Reputation: 554
I'm involved in planning, and am a former Omaha resident. Building a beltway is the opposite direction most cities are taking and would do nothing for traffic alleviation. MAPA needs to get on board. Planners have been providing evidence for years that building more highways only puts more cars on the road, leading to a spiraling cycle of ever-increasing sprawl that requires extensive public tax money for upkeep. Keep in mind HDR's interest in the engineering of such a project - of course they will be supportive.

"This means that, if no additional highways are built, an average Omahan’s 20-minute commute will take 25 minutes, amounting to a $727 dollars increase in annual travel costs per commuter household."

The estimate for the beltway is 700 million (which I would say is low) and the estimated increased costs per commuter above is $727 per year. Now, there aren't a million residents in the metro area (let alone a million commuters) and so just the initial costs (upkeep will be pushed on taxpayers as well) of construction will far outweigh the supposed benefits of shorter driving times.

"Planners considered three alternatives to the beltway: radial freeways, one entering Omaha from the Northwest and another from the South; an enhanced arterial network of widened highways and added “corridors,” and a light rail system. The study prioritized the beltway because of its cost and perceived ability to alleviate traffic."

Here's an idea - do your jobs as planners and work with city gov't to consider a mult-faceted, long-term, sustainable approach to transportation issues. Build more bike infrastructure, more walkable mixed-use developments, and a solid mass transit system that includes a functional bus system. Keeping with the current paradigm of building highways creates so many issues from a planning standpoint I'm amazed this is even on the table at MAPA, let alone a recommendation.
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Old 12-17-2009, 10:36 PM
 
3,284 posts, read 2,851,559 times
Reputation: 1832
Quote:
Originally Posted by Burquebinder View Post
I'm involved in planning, and am a former Omaha resident. Building a beltway is the opposite direction most cities are taking and would do nothing for traffic alleviation. MAPA needs to get on board. Planners have been providing evidence for years that building more highways only puts more cars on the road, leading to a spiraling cycle of ever-increasing sprawl that requires extensive public tax money for upkeep. Keep in mind HDR's interest in the engineering of such a project - of course they will be supportive.

"This means that, if no additional highways are built, an average Omahan’s 20-minute commute will take 25 minutes, amounting to a $727 dollars increase in annual travel costs per commuter household."

The estimate for the beltway is 700 million (which I would say is low) and the estimated increased costs per commuter above is $727 per year. Now, there aren't a million residents in the metro area (let alone a million commuters) and so just the initial costs (upkeep will be pushed on taxpayers as well) of construction will far outweigh the supposed benefits of shorter driving times.

"Planners considered three alternatives to the beltway: radial freeways, one entering Omaha from the Northwest and another from the South; an enhanced arterial network of widened highways and added “corridors,” and a light rail system. The study prioritized the beltway because of its cost and perceived ability to alleviate traffic."

Here's an idea - do your jobs as planners and work with city gov't to consider a mult-faceted, long-term, sustainable approach to transportation issues. Build more bike infrastructure, more walkable mixed-use developments, and a solid mass transit system that includes a functional bus system. Keeping with the current paradigm of building highways creates so many issues from a planning standpoint I'm amazed this is even on the table at MAPA, let alone a recommendation.
I agree with you. Maintain the roads we currently have, and not only explore other modes of transit, implement them.
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Old 12-18-2009, 06:02 AM
 
Location: Here
704 posts, read 1,613,700 times
Reputation: 327
This sounds like a terrible idea. A great exampe of unsustainable development. This is such a played out idea. It's nearly 2010. Building more roads is not the answer to anything. Certainly there will be raods we need to bild and more importantly rebuild. But if the last few years has showed us anything it should that the sprawling miles of suburbia is a terrible plan for both the economy and the environment.

Sounds to me like there are some vested interests that see the $$ involved in such a project. It's not about what's best for Omaha, it's about what will be a huge payoff to construction and design firms that would make a fortune from such a project at the the taxpayers expense.
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Old 12-18-2009, 09:01 AM
 
6,486 posts, read 5,669,274 times
Reputation: 1272
There are plenty of areas in West Omaha and surrounding communities that would benefit from having easy access. They're stupid if they don't consider the possibility that in 20 years it might be nice to have a beltway besides 80/680.
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Old 12-18-2009, 09:36 AM
 
Location: Omaha Nebraska
171 posts, read 490,408 times
Reputation: 108
The state can't maintain the roads we currently have. We need to start thinking about light rail. Not some little street car downtown, but a full blown city wide light rail system.
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Old 12-18-2009, 03:44 PM
 
Location: Omaha Nebraska and dreamland when I am sleeping
3,096 posts, read 6,461,127 times
Reputation: 524
Quote:
Originally Posted by brad_in_omaha View Post
The state can't maintain the roads we currently have. We need to start thinking about light rail. Not some little street car downtown, but a full blown city wide light rail system.


i too think we need to think about a city wide light rail system
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Old 12-20-2009, 04:57 PM
 
Location: Papillion
31 posts, read 70,625 times
Reputation: 16
another vote for me for light rail or any better mass transit our feeble bus system is an embarrassment it just doesn't make any sence, i thought we wanted a better downtown core, having a beltway does not promote people to head to the center of the city just to stay on the outskirts. go light rail!
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Old 12-21-2009, 02:16 AM
 
6 posts, read 14,503 times
Reputation: 12
Light rail would be awesome for Omaha, though I don't think the city is anywhere near accepting the idea. Omaha is too much of a driving town, with no sense of transportation other than the automobile. Anyone familiar with Portland, OR's light rail system? It stretches 15 miles into the suburbs (in multiple directions), and is quick and effortless. Omaha = behind the times. I hear you guys are getting bike lanes? It took that long?
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Old 12-21-2009, 02:18 AM
 
6 posts, read 14,503 times
Reputation: 12
Seriously: TriMet: System Map
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