A long-awaited dream for many Columbus residents has been the opening of a second viaduct to span the Union Pacific Railroad tracks targeting greater safety and helping promote future development.
Columbus Mayor Jim Bulkley has a suggestion for marking the occasion when the Third Avenue viaduct opens in about a month and ends decades of discussion and speculation about when the time would come.
“I’d like to find an 80-year-old (person) who was around more than 60 years ago when the first viaduct was built and let (him or her) be the first to drive over the new Third Avenue viaduct,” Bulkley said.
Columbus civic and business leaders have been mulling a second viaduct in the community since the 1930s. The city’s current viaducts plan was approved by voters in 2008.
The Third Avenue structure, which got underway in April 2017, is expected to be completed in about six weeks.
“Third Avenue has come along tremendously,” Bulkley said. “I expect a mid-September ribbon-cutting ceremony.”
A.M. Cohron and Son Inc. of Atlantic, Iowa, was awarded the bid for the Third Avenue viaduct and 18th Avenue pedestrian overpass project last year by the Nebraska Department of Roads. The total cost for construction is $10.89 million.
The two structures have been built concurrently, with a time frame of 12-18 months for completion. Construction of a 12th Avenue viaduct will begin once those two structures are complete.
Officials with the state department of roads have lauded Columbus’ viaduct plans as a model for how a state agency, community and railroad can forge a partnership in 21st-century infrastructure projects.
A cost-sharing agreement calls for 80 percent of the total price tag, including design and property acquisition fees, to be covered by federal funding, 13 percent by Union Pacific and 7 percent by the city using local sales tax revenue.
Bulkley said the 18th Avenue pedestrian crossing south of Scotus Central Catholic hasn’t gotten the attention that the Third Avenue viaduct has stirred, but it’s also nearing its expected opening.
“It’s not as visible a project, but it should be opening by early October,” the mayor said.
City Engineer Rick Bogus said the viaduct’s approaching opening will boost safety for drivers and become a conduit for improving traffic patterns to the commercial and residential properties and the east industrial area down Eighth Street.
“Safety comes first,” he said, adding that closing at-grade crossings always achieves that purpose.
When the Third and 12th Avenue viaducts are open, the engineer said there would be no more need for passing trains to sound their horns at those intersections. The next open at-grade crossings are on the east side of the community.
During the Third Avenue improvements, the city and construction workers have worked to ensure businesses such as Central Valley Ag, Ferrellgas inc. and Beard-Warren Heating and Air Conditioning Inc. have adequate access to their customers.
An old section of Third Avenue on the north side of the railroad tracks has been improved to serve as an access road for the businesses. Detour signage has also been to alert people of the route to be taken to reach a business.
Nick Kobza, manager of Central Valley, said city officials were “responsive” when the business let them know that some patrons were confused about detour directions when the route switched from southbound to northbound.
“It was hit and miss sometimes, but so far, so good,” Kobza said.
Zach Nickolite of Beard-Warren Heating and & Air Conditioning Inc., 1978 Third Ave., just on the northside vehicle approach, was impressed with the quality of the paving job.
“They did a good job during the progress of the work,” said the assistant manager at the HVAC business. Nickolite said he wasn’t inconvenienced at all using the detour that took him from St. Bon’s Cemetery to Simon House via 10th Street and on to Third Avenue.
He’s still looking forward to the project hitting the finishing line.
“There’s been more dust and traffic as the end gets nearer,” Nickolite said.
Jim Osborn is a reporter with The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.