OMAHA – A bridge that would allow streetcar, pedestrian and bicycle traffic between downtown Omaha and Council Bluffs, Iowa, could spur significant development opportunities on the Iowa side of the Missouri River.
Plans for the bridge, along with a number of other potential projects in Omaha’s urban core, have been unveiled by the Greater Omaha Chamber.
The bridge, which authorities say could cost between $80 million and $100 million, would lie south of Interstate 480. Together with the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge and other trails, it would create a 2-mile loop for walkers, runners and cyclists.
It would also pave the way for the redevelopment of Dodge Park – the only public golf course in Council Bluffs – and could lead to a streetcar line connecting Omaha and Council Bluffs.
The bridge is the “kingpin” of the project, said Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh. If the bridge can’t happen, he said, other developments won’t happen either.
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“We believe the bridge can be done and that will, in itself, lead to the development that we need,” he said.
The bridge would start at roughly Douglas Street on the Omaha side and end on land that is now home to the Dodge Park golf course, said Brandon Garrett, chief of staff for the mayor’s office in Council Bluffs.
Walsh said about 19,000 residents of Council Bluffs commute to work in Omaha every day.
“We’ve always been part of the urban core, but we think this is a big idea and a transformation for the entire metro area,” Walsh said.
An urban core committee’s planning document shows an image of a bridge in Oregon as an example of what the Omaha-Council Bluffs Bridge might look like. The Oregon Bridge is split, allowing pedestrian and bicycle traffic on one side and a streetcar line on the other.
The report goes on to say that the bridge would be instrumental in linking housing and employment and would be a catalyst in achieving the employment and housing goals of the Urban Core Plan.
Walsh said he expects funding for the bridge and a streetcar line to come from a variety of sources, such as the recently passed federal infrastructure bill, money from the sale of Dodge Park and a gift from the Iowa West Foundation.
Garrett said the tax increase funding could be used for some funding for streetcars. A number of state and federal grants could also be applied for.
Walsh said he and other city staff plan to meet with Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and his team to discuss the bridge project.
The redevelopment of Dodge Park would also be significant for the city of Omaha, Stothert said.
“You can’t just look at one area of town, or Omaha alone, without looking at what’s happening in the communities around us,” she said. “That’s how we work together.”
Council Bluffs officials also want to extend a light rail line through the city, stretching from the riverfront to Jennie Edmundson Methodist Hospital and CHI Mercy.
Walsh said plans were in the works, but depended on the city of Omaha to come up with a plan for its light rail line. Omaha’s proposed streetcar – which would be a 3-mile loop – was announced in late January, along with the announcement that Mutual of Omaha would move its headquarters to downtown.
The Omaha Line will be complemented by waterfront parks to the east and the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Project NExT facility to the west.
A rough outline of the Council Bluffs line would run from the riverside over the bridge to Council Bluffs. A streetcar station would be located just off the bridge in the newly redeveloped Dodge Park area. The route, located between West Broadway and Second Avenue, would then go to hospitals.
The route would be built in phases, going west to east, Garrett said.
The streetcar would pass next to a new path along the First Avenue corridor. The trail was built to allow room for a future streetcar line, Walsh said.
Council Bluffs officials are discussing bridge and light rail projects with consultants, Walsh said. He estimated that a streetcar line would cost between $8 million and $10 million per mile. He did not have a cost estimate for the redevelopment of Dodge Park, saying it depended on what was proposed for the site and how the streetcar line would run through the space.
The golf course would become a residential development with some mixed-use elements, including restaurants, shops and, possibly, office space.
Officials said the project would be a similar concept to Aksarben Village, near 67th and Center streets in Omaha.
The walkable urban neighborhood would be close to jobs in both metropolitan areas, according to the committee’s report. This would allow the urban core to “attract and retain talent and compete nationally”.
If the Dodge Park property were to be developed, Walsh said, property taxes would generate far more than the $150,000 in profit the golf course has averaged over the past two years.
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