We Can Fix Our Streets AND Build a Streetcar
It’s not in your head: this winter has been particularly hard on Omaha’s streets.
A city engineer recently said this weather has made for “prime conditions” for creating potholes, and that they are literally everywhere from downtown to out west.
It’s a frequent topic of conversation around town. Omaha Public Works received more than 1,500 complaints about them in February. And it’s a common rebuttal against the streetcar on our social media – folks saying we need to fix our streets first before building a streetcar.
In reality, a streetcar could help prevent issues that cause the need for street repair in the future. Streetcars reduce the number of cars on our streets, shorten commutes, mitigate wear and tear, and have the potential to increase tax revenue (by adding density to our urban core), which can be reinvested in our roads.
Funding-wise, we can fix our streets AND build a streetcar, it’s not one or the other. The streetcar can be a different type of infrastructure investment – one that can generate its own funding (see section below). This money would not come from the same funding source as regular street maintenance.
The streetcar is a proactive step we can take today.
While corridor leaders are working on a streetcar funding solution that would not require a city-wide tax increase, we want to dispel another common misperception: that the funds used to build the streetcar could instead be allocated to other transportation projects.
It’s true that $170 million is a significant investment in our city. But in order to not use tax money to pay for it, leaders are looking at a self-funding model that is linked to economic development along the corridor.
If the streetcar doesn’t happen, it doesn’t mean that $170 million would be available for other projects. It would mean a lost opportunity.
Omaha hasn’t embarked on a transit-oriented economic development project this large in scale. But it’s worked in Kansas City and other cities, and it can work here.
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