The City of Columbus this week made waves regarding the construction of the 12th Avenue viaduct project by naming its contractor.

The city received three bids in reference to the project and opted to go with Omaha-based Hawkins Construction Company. The firm came in with the low project bid of $10,908,062.47 which was unanimously approved during this week’s Columbus City Council meeting with a 7-0 vote. Ward 4 Council Member J. Prent Roth wasn’t in attendance.

The build, expected to start in late March and span over an 18- to-24-month course, is being 80 percent funded through the Nebraska Department of Roads and the Federal Highway Administration, 10 percent by Union Pacific Railroad and 10 percent by the city.

While she did vote in favor of granting the contract, Ward 1 Council Member Beth Augustine-Schulte made comments regarding some of her concerns with erecting viaducts around town because of the need to close several north/south at-grade railroad crossings.

“... In the past I have expressed that when we have our viaducts completed, I just have a lot of concerns of the limited number of intersections that we are going to have going from the south side of town to the north side of town,” Augustine-Schulte said.

“I have a lot of concerns about how the traffic is going to flow, how that is going to create movement for people.”

She noted that with at-grade crossing closures happening along 21st and 25th avenues it would also limit people’s mobility in times of duress or during other emergency situations.

Mayor Jim Bulkley, while noting that he believes some of Augustine-Schulte’s concerns are valid, highlighted how the community voted in favor of and was aware of what the viaduct projects consisted of.

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“This was a process that started 10-12 years with studies and inputs from all over the community, was brought to the public for a vote, brought to that vote with the procedures that are being laid out now,” Bulkley said.

He noted that once all projects are complete, there will be two at-grade crossings and three viaduct crossings available for travel heading north/south. In late August, the Third Avenue viaduct was opened and is still in the final stages of completion, and the 18th Avenue pedestrian walkway was opened earlier this month.

“What Mr. (Rick) Bogus told you was that once 12th Avenue is done and completed … 21st (at-grade crossing) and 25th (at-grade crossing) will close,” the mayor said. “That will leave the 23rd and 26th (at-grade crossings), it will leave our major viaduct to the west and our two new ones - 12th and Third (avenues). So that’s still five crossings (north/south) still available.”

Augustine-Schulte, however, noted that there is still a reasonable concern because of certain geographical shifts during the past decade or so.

“Since the citizens first voted on that and since that package went through, a lot of dynamics in the layout of the community have changed,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of housing and a lot of neighborhoods and a lot of other things that have changed in that area.

“And so, those things weren’t taken into consideration because they didn’t exist at the time when that package went through. And so, as I said, I understand that it’s (the projects) gone through, I understand the majority of the council is in favor of it and people are, but it doesn’t change the fact that I have concerns, and that’s what I wanted to point out.”

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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News Editor

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram, Schuyler Sun and The Banner-Press newspapers. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2015.

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