Omaha has big decisions to make in working to meet its long-term transportation needs. Mayor Jean Stothert will hold four public meetings over the next week, which can provide a good opportunity for the city to explain the scope of the road fixes needed and then receive public feedback. Outreach to citizens can strengthen trust in what would likely be an expensive, multi-year endeavor.
Omaha struggled through the past winter and spring amid horrendous pothole problems and loud public complaint. The city even had to close a section of 144th Street from about Millard Avenue to Q Street for replacement. Street patching early this year totaled about $13 million.
But the problem didn’t spring up just this year — it has been decades in the making. Critics have called the current situation a Band-Aid approach — and city leaders agree. The solution: a long-range, adequately funded plan that boosts the city’s ability to make more permanent improvements.
Omaha has about 5,000 lane miles of street to maintain, about $1.5 billion in value. Recommended engineering standards say the city should spend about $75 million annually on street maintenance and rehabilitation. Such an approach would ensure that every lane mile in the city is resurfaced over the course of its 20-year lifespan.
The city currently budgets about $41 million for street maintenance — about $34 million short of the recommended standard. So, officials are looking to develop a long-term strategy to provide additional funding for a systematic street maintenance program.
Omaha currently resurfaces about 125 lane miles each year. To meet the recommended standard, the city would need to double the amount of its annual resurfacing, to about 250 lane miles. That would require significant funding, since a lane-mile of concrete costs about $1.5 million.
How to generate the additional revenue? Options include a bond issue, a wheel tax increase or a boost in the city sales tax. A $200 million bond, for example, would generate $40 million for street work annually, which would more than cover the revenue gap. It would cost homeowners about $71 annually in property taxes on a $200,000 house.
Stothert is right that any major new funding proposal should be decided through a vote of the people. The meetings:
» Tuesday, 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saddlebrook Community Center, 14850 Laurel Ave.
» Thursday, 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., the Venue at Highlander 75 North, 2112 N. 30th St.
» Friday, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Salvation Army Kroc Center, 2825 Y St.
» Monday, July 22, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., University of Nebraska at Omaha, Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center, 6400 University Drive.
Given the enormous scale of the challenge, sessions should focus on the big picture. The city should explain the overall situation. Citizens should indicate if they’re willing to pay more for street work and if so, what funding mechanism they prefer or absolutely oppose.
The city might create a website to provide information on the city’s long-term road needs and solicit feedback, a welcome step.
The more that Omaha leaders hear from citizens about their preferences, the better the city can develop a workable street-fix plan with public buy-in.