2013 Omaha mayoral election: Candidates on streetcars
Saturday, March 9th, 2013 @ 1:26PM
March 9, 2013
Omaha World Herald
Today: Do you support the addition of streetcars in the city? If so, how would you pay for that?
I continually hear from people – especially in the young professional community – that Omaha could do a much better job of keeping talented people in our great city if we devoted more time addressing our transit situation. I think of my time serving on the original MECA Board when everyone said the Qwest Center could not be built. We all know what happened: it was built on time and on budget.
We need to seriously evaluate whether a segment of light rail can be incorporated into a broader transportation grid. This can happen through a private/public partnership. I think with perseverance and collaboration with the philanthropic and business sector of the community, we can move Omaha’s transportation into the 21st century. This will help keep our talented workforce in Omaha.
No. I’d rather see our attention focused on transforming the downtown, riverfront and midtown areas with new housing, entertainment, dining and recreation experiences that draw both the young and old. It will create jobs and invigorate the city.
While an intriguing idea, I do not support the creation of a streetcar system at this time without a plan to shield city taxpayers from the yet-to-be-determined costs of such a project. I am also concerned about starting another expensive and significant project when we’ve committed to a multibillion-dollar sewer project [and have] a massive pension shortfall to address, [with] taxpayers already being stretched to their financial limits.
I strongly believe in a “whole streets” policy that recognizes all forms of transportation, including autos, public transit, pedestrians and bicycles. Before we talk about specifics like a streetcar, we would have to demonstrate that Omaha meets federal transit standards and that the development around such a line would surpass the cost of investing in this project.
Before now, this has all been talk without a base line of information, nor compliance to federal guidelines. My administration has seen to the completion of transportation master plans and an alternative transportation study that looks at all the alternatives. These documents are the basic requirement for any potential federal investment in municipal transportation upgrades.
As mayor, I would support city streetcars or a light rail as a way to connect our city. However, a streetcar operation needs to be built and maintained by private developers, without spending city dollars on the project. I believe private developers can fund this project, and the options should be fully researched.
Possibilities to consider include incentive options for developers, including land for future development along the rail lines, or low cost tickets for rail use, with available vouchers for lower-income individuals.