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Local
Metro transit delays start date for new Omaha Rapid Bus Transit line

The start of Omaha’s new rapid transit bus line will be delayed until this fall as construction of the station platforms falls behind schedule.

That’s sure to draw grumbling from many drivers dealing with traffic delays as construction takes up a lane of traffic in spots along Dodge Street.

Metro transit has delayed its ORBT — Omaha Rapid Bus Transit — project before through the years of planning and preparations. The most recent goal had been an April 2020 start; the goal before that was a 2019 start.

The ORBT line will take an approach to transit that Omaha hasn’t seen.

The 60-foot-long, accordion-centered buses will act something like a streetcar or train.

Passengers will get on and off the bus on the raised platforms being built now. The rapid transit buses will make more limited stops on the route between Westroads Mall and downtown, use technology to hold a green light longer and ride on a semidedicated lane east of 30th Street.

METRO TRANSIT  

Metro is preparing Omaha’s new ORBT rapid transit bus system for its 2020 launch. The ORBT station canopies are being built by Dimensional Innovations in Overland Park, Kansas. The ORBT stations will have Wi-Fi, ticket kiosks and raised boarding platforms.

Jason Rose, Metro transit’s outreach coordinator for ORBT, said Metro is confident that it will meet the fall 2020 start.

Rose said he knows the platform construction has gotten off to a slow start. Still, he said, “This is the biggest transit investment in the city in decades — it’s well worth taking good time to do it. But it’s also learning how to create a new system.”

Metro and contractor the Weitz Co. started construction in August. But weeks before that, the Metropolitan Utilities District cracked into Dodge Street to update its infrastructure underneath a number of stations.

Rose said Metro got a late start in the construction season. Workers found that the utilities under the street were more complicated than expected. Through the construction, he said, crews have been improving their system for installing the unique platforms.

Metro anticipated each platform would take 40 days to build. The first completed stations at 72nd, 84th and 90th Streets each took more than three months.

Another seven stations are in various stages of construction and could wrap up within weeks if weather cooperates. The construction will be focusing more on downtown, where crews have more room to work, Rose said.

After that, 14 more platforms are left to build.

ORBT will have stations on both sides of Dodge Street at 90th, 84th, 72nd, 62nd, 49th, 42nd and 33rd Streets. Other stations will be along Douglas Street eastbound at Park Avenue, 24th Street, 19th Street, 15th Street and 10th Street; and up Dodge Street at 12th Street, 15th Street, 20th Street, 24th Street and Park Avenue.

Outside the platform construction, other parts of the project are proceeding. All 10 orange ORBT buses have been delivered to Omaha, and construction of the station canopies is wrapping up.

With the delays, the project’s cost is rising — from an earlier estimate of $35 million to $37 million.

Metro received a $14.9 million federal transportation grant in 2014 and has spent other federal funds. Other contributors include the Peter Kiewit Foundation, the Sherwood Foundation, Mutual of Omaha, the Nebraska Environmental Trust and the Metropolitan Utilities District.

Omaha streets and how they got their names

Photos: Omaha streets and how they got their names

Local
Drivers beware: These are Omaha's worst hills in the winter

The worst winter hill is the one you find yourself on when you get that dreaded feeling, “Not good.”

Heading down, you worry you’ll pinball to a stop.

Going up, you realize your car doesn’t have the momentum to take the hill. Worse, you start sliding backward.

Molly Nicklin has seen that driver outside her home at 40th and California Streets.

Nicklin and her partner, Luke Armstrong, bought the property at the corner of 40th and California and founded the Cali Commons community space. They live upstairs — above the dropoff that is California Street, where the hill that houses the soaring St. Cecilia Cathedral falls down toward Saddle Creek Road, which, you know, used to be an actual creek.

Nicklin knows the sound of screeching, spinning tires. She’s seen cars, usually the second or third stopped in a line, stall trying to drive up the hill.

“I’ve done a lot of looking out the window and watching that happen,” she said.

With ice and snow and winter upon us in full, The World-Herald cast out to find the worst wintry driving hills in Omaha.

You, the drivers of Omaha, are the experts here.

And with Google Maps and nifty online elevation maps from Douglas County's Geographic Information Systems department, anybody can get a sense for how bad these hills are. At OmahaHotline.com — the City of Omaha’s official complaint reporting site — residents are letting Mayor Jean Stothert know which hills are problems, too.

Here are some of the worst winter hills in Omaha. Be safe out there.

What do you think? Email JRobb@owh.com and let us know which hills you avoid at all costs during winter.


Over the hill

What are Omaha's worst hills to navigate in the winter? You, the drivers of Omaha, are the experts, so we asked for your thoughts on the city's most challenging climbs and daring descents. The answers are depicted on this map. Click each point to learn more. Mobile users can click here for a more user-friendly map.


Photos: 1975 blizzard cripples Omaha, suffocates the Midwest

Photos: 1975 blizzard cripples Omaha, suffocates the Midwest

State_and_regional
Many Nebraskans, Iowans in the crowd as Trump becomes 1st president to speak at March for Life

WASHINGTON — Groups of Nebraskans and Iowans joined other abortion opponents from across the country at the 47th national March For Life on Friday, excited to see Donald Trump become the first sitting president to address the gathering in person.

“Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House,” Trump told the crowd. “And as the Bible tells us, each person is wonderfully made.”

The annual event started one year after the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which established a woman’s legal right to abortion.

Seth Nelson, 18, was one of the dozens of students and chaperones from Remsen St. Mary’s High School in Remsen, Iowa, who attended this year’s march.

It was his first time there, but Nelson said he’s hopeful that the court will soon overturn Roe.

“I want to end abortion,” he said. “Our religion teacher always says, ‘We’re the generation to end abortion.’ ”

Trump fired up the crowd by talking about policy changes his administration has made to push back on abortion access and the conservative judges he’s placed on the federal bench.

Critics accuse Trump of using the march to try to distract from his impeachment trial in the Senate.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called it “an act of desperation, plain and simple.” Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, accused Trump of carrying out “a full-out assault on our health and our rights.”

According to Pew Research Center polling in 2019, roughly 6 in 10 Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Over time, though, both the Democratic and Republican parties have moved further to the left and right, respectively, on abortion rights.

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Views of abortion have remained relatively stable over two decades of polling, and it’s a minority of Americans who believe that abortion should be legal or illegal in all cases. But polling does suggest a widening partisan gap on the question of support for abortion rights in all or most cases, along with some movement on both sides of the aisle toward total support or total opposition to abortion rights.

Midlands senators could not participate in the march because they had to be in their seats for the ongoing impeachment trial, but they hosted morning receptions for constituents in town for the event.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, talked up this year’s theme of “pro-life, pro-woman” and said the movement is making progress even if Roe isn’t going to be overturned immediately.

“We’re headed that way,” she said. “I don’t know that we see that breakthrough ruling right now. But I think there’s greater awareness in the public of what life really is and how meaningful it is, and as we start to see that more and more of our younger people are committing themselves to life and as we see that, I do think we’re getting closer.”

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., told visiting Nebraskans to “stay strong, stay courageous, stay vocal,” while Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said more advanced sonogram images are prompting people to change their attitudes about abortion.

“It turns out teens and 20-somethings are becoming more pro-life, because when you see what’s happening in utero, you realize that a baby is a baby,” he said.

Among several University of Nebraska-Lincoln students who stopped by the Fischer and Sasse reception were 19-year-old twins Joshua and Katie Harris.

“The work that we’re doing out here — I truly think that what we’re doing is making a difference,” Josh said.

Katie Harris said she feels a special responsibility to express her views as a woman in the movement. She said she’s glad to see some states passing new abortion restrictions and the possibility of court rulings favorable to the cause.

“And hopefully we won’t have to keep coming to these marches if Roe v. Wade gets overturned,” she said.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

Photos: Nebraska and Iowa's members of Congress

National
Dems say oust Trump or he'll betray again; 'He is who he is'

WASHINGTON (AP) — Closing out their case, House Democrats warned Friday in Donald Trump's impeachment trial that the president will persist in abusing his power and endangering American democracy unless Congress intervenes to remove him before the 2020 election.

“He is who he is," declared Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He told the senators listening as jurors that Trump put the U.S-Ukraine relationship on the line in a way that benefited Russia just so he could take a political “cheap shot” at Democratic foe Joe Biden.

“You cannot leave a man like that in office," Schiff said. “You know it's not going to stop. ... It's not going to stop unless the Congress does something about it.”

Trump is being tried in the Senate after the House impeached him last month, accusing him of abusing his office by asking Ukraine for politically motivated probes of Biden and other matters while withholding military aid from a U.S. ally that was at war with bordering Russia. A second article of impeachment accuses him of obstructing Congress by refusing to turn over documents or allow officials to testify in the House ensuing probe.

As Democrats finished their third day before skeptical Republican senators, Trump's legal team prepared to start his defense, expected on Saturday. Trump, eyes on the audience beyond the Senate chamber, bemoaned the schedule in a tweet, saying “looks like my lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V.”

Said Trump attorney Jay Sekulow: “We're going to rebut and refute, and we're going to put on an affirmative case tomorrow.”

Republicans are defending Trump’s actions as appropriate and are casting the impeachment trial as a politically motivated effort to weaken him in his reelection campaign. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and eventual acquittal is considered likely.

Before that, senators will make a critical decision next week on Democratic demands to hear testimony from top Trump aides, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton who refused to appear before the House. It would take four Republican senators to join the Democratic minority to seek witnesses, and so far the numbers appear lacking.

“This needs to end,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Trump confidant.

With Chief Justice John Roberts presiding, Friday's session opened with a sweeping and impassioned argument from Democrats that Trump's actions with Ukraine were not unique but part of a pattern of "destructive behavior" now threatening the core foundations of American democracy.

Schiff told the senators that Trump has shown repeatedly that he is willing to put his personal political interests above those of the country he is sworn to protect.

The evidence shows, he said, that Trump bucked the advice of his own national security apparatus to chase “kooky” theories about Ukraine pushed by lawyer Rudy Giuliani, resulting in "one hell of a Russian intelligence coup” that benefited Vladimir Putin at U.S. expense.

This was not simply a foreign policy dispute, Schiff argued, but a breech of long-held American values for Trump to leverage an ally — in this case Ukraine, a struggling democracy facing down Russian troops — for the investigations he wanted ahead of 2020.

When the House started investigating his actions, Democrats said, Trump blatantly obstructed the probe. Even then-President Richard Nixon, they argued, better understood the need to comply with Congress in some of its oversight requests.

Schiff said that left unchecked Trump, who insists he did nothing wrong, would seek foreign election interference again.

Drawing on historical figures, from the Founding Fathers to the late GOP Sen. John McCain and the fictional Atticus Finch, Schiff made his arguments emphatically personal.

“The next time, it just may be you," he said, pointing at one senator after another. "Do you think for a moment that if he felt it was in his interest, he wouldn't ask you to be investigated?”

The senators though, appear as deeply divided as the nation, with Democrats ready to vote to convict the president and Republicans poised to acquit.

The impeachment trial is set against the backdrop of the 2020 election, as voters assess Trump's presidency and his run for a second term. Four senators who are Democratic presidential candidates are off the campaign trail, seated as jurors.

A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed the public slightly more likely to say the Senate should convict and remove Trump from office than to say it should not, 45% to 40%. But a sizable percentage, 14%, said they didn't know enough to have an opinion.

One issue with wide agreement: Trump should allow top aides to appear as witnesses at the trial. About 7 in 10 respondents said so, including majorities of Republicans and Democrats, according to the poll.

Trump is the third president in American history to face an impeachment trial. Neither Andrew Johnson in 1868 nor Bill Clinton in 1999 was removed by the Senate. Nixon left office before a House vote that was likely to impeach him.

The House mounted its Trump case after a government whistleblower complained about his July 2019 call with Ukraine. The House relied on testimony from current and former national security officials and diplomats, many who defied White House instructions not to appear.

Evidence presented in the House probe has shown that Trump, with Giuliani, pursued investigations of Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on a Ukrainian gas company’s board, and sought a probe of a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

It's a story line many in the president's camp are still pushing. Giuliani, in an appearance Friday on “Fox & Friends,” insisted he would present evidence on his new podcast of “collusion going on in Ukraine to fix the 2016 election in favor of Hillary" Clinton.

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Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Laurie Kellman, Matthew Daly and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.