The vision of public transportation across central Omaha includes a light-rail system that could connect a growing University of Nebraska Medical Center campus to downtown.

Another possibility: a “rapid transit” bus system stretching from a redeveloped Crossroads Mall and along Dodge, Farnam and Harney Streets.

Both options would roll near Midtown Crossing, the CenturyLink Center, TD Ameritrade Park and the Creighton University campus.

Take a closer look at routes a new streetcar or "rapid bus" transit system could use.

Metro officials on Wednesday evening unveiled the current priorities in their ongoing study of downtown and central Omaha's mass transit system.

One clear goal, officials said, is to transform Omaha's transportation system in ways that accommodate and spur growth in the eastern portion of the city.

It will be months before a more refined plan emerges, and it could include both transit options. It will also take time before costs and feasibility are closely examined. Actual construction remains a distant vision.

“It could come down to one size does not fit all,” said Curt Simon, Metro executive director. “Maybe they're phased. That's all the stuff that's being analyzed.”

The light rail and bus rapid transit (or BRT) options will be scrutinized for costs, environmental issues, specific designs and funding sources. That process is expected to be completed by May, when a final plan is distributed to the public.

The transit options would run on east-west routes, past some of Omaha's more ambitious urban developments, and include:

» “Bus rapid transit”: A bus that operates in traffic or dedicated lanes but has priority at traffic signals, flexible schedules and custom stops and shelters.

The bus could run on one of two routes taking it from Crossroads Mall down Dodge Street toward the medical center, then to Midtown Crossing and downtown on Douglas, Farnam or Harney Streets. The route would also circle the main downtown business and entertainment districts.

» Light rail or “modern streetcar”: An electrically powered light-rail line that shares travel lanes and stops with buses but uses larger vehicles.

Metro officials presented a route that could run from UNMC down Farnam Street or Harney Street toward downtown, the CenturyLink Center and TD Ameritrade Park.

Simon said such a project would coincide with other improvements to the rest of the city's bus system.

“But this project could accelerate any of those enhancements,” he said.

City Council members Jean Stothert and Chris Jerram attended the meeting at the Paxton Ballroom along with Omaha Planning Director Rick Cunningham.

A completed project “takes us from a mid-major city to a major all-star city that would rival the transportation systems found in the most progressive, economically thriving cities in America,” Jerram said.

Of course, he added, a lot of work needs to be done.

“I think the conversation needs to occur,” Stothert said. “Of course, the concerns are always, 'How's it going to be funded?'”

“If money was not an issue, they're very exciting and would certainly add a lot to that area,” Stothert said of the streetcar option.

The meeting was part of the $1.3 million study, which is partly designed to put Omaha in line to compete for federal dollars to help implement a project.

Generally, Simon said, such projects can have up to half the cost offset by federal funding. The city would have to come up with the rest.

“Money's always going to be an issue, because it always is,” he said.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1068, johnny.perez@owh.com; twitter.com/PerezJr

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