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East 29th Avenue viaduct delayed

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Transportation Committee

During a Thursday meeting of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce Transportation Committee held at the Ramada Hotel and River’s Edge Convention Center, Columbus City Engineer Rick Bogus, left, Third Ward Council Member Rich Jablonski, former state Sen. Arnie Stuthman and Platte County Highway Department Administrative Assistant Jane Cromwell listen to discussion on the East 29th Avenue viaduct project.

Progress appears to be stalled for the long-awaited East 29th Avenue viaduct project.

City and county officials gathered for the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Committee meeting held Thursday afternoon, during which an update on the project had been shared.

Platte County Highway Department Administrative Assistant Jane Cromwell said she received a status update last week.

“They (state officials) indicated that NDOT, environmental and the engineers … had met for the final time – they hoped – with federal highway and it appears that federal highway has concluded the final (evaluation) of that project,” Cromwell said.

“Now we’re just waiting on them to put their stamp of approval on it and then they’ll obligate their funds for the right-of-way appraisals. After the appraisals are done, then they’ll start the right-of-way acquisition. The … letting date is fall of 2022, but it was so noted on the release that I got that it’s subject to change.”

But, the project has been in the works for a number of years.

A 2013 Columbus Telegram article reported that the first phase in the East 29th Avenue viaduct – the environmental review – had been started, with the gathered data being submitted and approved by the end of 2014. That same article reported the estimated $6.6 million project beginning in 2016, with cost being split between Platte County, the Nebraska Department of Transportation, Union Pacific Railroad and the Federal Highway Administration.

In 2016, the Telegram reported that the project has been in the works since a feasibility study was conducted in 2008. In that same article, it was estimated that the viaduct would be completed in 2020.

In February 2020, then Platte County Board Chairman Jerry Engdahl wrote in the Telegram that final design approval and right-of-way purchasing should be completed in 2020 with construction to start in 2021.

Now, things appear to have been pushed back another year.

As noted during Thursday’s meeting, the East 29th Avenue viaduct can’t proceed until that final stamp of approval is given by the federal government.

“By the time we cut the ribbon on that maybe it’ll be a full 20 years,” said Dennis Hirschbrunner, a transportation committee member.

Hirschbrunner added that the cost of the project continues to raise the longer it’s delayed.

“The cost to the county and the cost to all these taxpayers continues to go up,” he said. “Construction costs increase somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-15% a year, compounded.”

Cromwell said the estimated cost has increased from $6 million to over $15 million throughout the years.

In other county highway news, Cromwell provided updates on the county’s bridges.

About half of Platte County’s bridges are up for inspection this year – inspections are done every two years – with no major issues found, she reported. Also, officials are continuing to apply for and use grant funding to replace the small, wooden bridges in the county.

“We’re continuing to replace some of those smaller bridges with culverts, but it probably won’t surprise any of you, the price of culverts lately,” Cromwell told the transportation committee. She noted that the county went out for bids in September for a culvert project, and the costs had increased and there were estimated delivery delays.

“It’s going to continue being a problem,” she added.

Around the county:

• The construction portion of the 53rd Street and Third Avenue paving project is completed. It should be restriped this week;

• Cromwell is coordinating a meeting of the interlocal steering committee for the 30/64 connector project following the completion of a recent traffic study;

• The Platte County Highway Department is preparing for its next round of resurfacing, a major project of which will be 12th Avenue and 17th Street down to BD; and

• Cromwell reported that the highway department is 25% understaffed; Columbus Chamber President Dawson Brunswick said the organization has been busy trying to recruit more people to come work in Columbus.

Hannah Schrodt is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at hannah.schrodt@lee.net.

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