Streetcar chatter continues

Posted at 5:22 PM, Mar 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-23 18:22:38-04

The old-aged battle over a street car proposal continues to buzz with supporters hopeful, while critics oppose the transportation expansion. 


In 2008, former Mayor Mike Fahey swayed enough council-members to look into a trolley car study. Forward nine years later, supporters like the Omaha-Council Bluffs Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA) are trying to sell an old package as new. "The approach to transit today, it's really one where it's not a luxury,” says Joe Reardon, a keynote speaker at the agency’s Heartland 2050 Winter Summit. “ It's a necessity." It's about re-branding a streetcar – once named undesired – as something worth investing in now.


Reardon, formerly the mayor of Kansas City, Kansas and CEO of Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, spoke about the changes a new street car has brought there in just under a year old. "I think it's been proven in cities of our size, around the country that when it's done in a smart way, it can lead to good development,” he says. It's taken vacant lots along that two-mile corridor and we're now seeing mixes of development, Reardon says, roughly bringing in $1.8 million projects in and around the streetcar corridor.


 A recent financial study done for the city found a streetcar project would cost about $156 million to build and $7.5  million to operate each year. The proposal for the street car would start near TD Ameritrade Park going as far west to Midtown. The fact that it covers a fraction of the city, opponents say it doesn't benefit the whole city and some of that opposition comes from city hall.


When a streetcar study came up in November 2008, Councilman Garry Gernandt didn’t hold back his skepticism saying he’d be lynched on 24th Street if he supported it after neighborhood groups called him. The south Omaha councilman attended the summit where he appeared to have changed his mind. Sort of.


 “I need to hear those who believe in vision.  Let’s hear a little bit more. Let’s get some more information. I'm in that mode right now I can't flatly say I'm not against it.”


Next - an advisory committee will look at funding options to see if the streetcar can get a green light.


To see the study, click here.