Construction around schools has drivers singing “Can’t get there from here”
Sometimes I think Lincoln’s theme song should be “Can’t get there from here” – it’s like traffic engineers gone wild with all the medians around here.
And parents of kids who go to Southeast High School, Sheridan Elementary School, Calvert Elementary School and Irving Middle School have definitely been singing that song a lot lately, as the routes to schools have dried up recently due to multiple roads under construction near those schools.
As one of my readers, Shawn Traudt, recently wrote to me,
Is it just me, or has the city stumbled upon the most sadistic way to mess with drivers who reside or commute between the areas bounded by 56th and 27th and South to Pioneers? Pioneers is or has been closed. The intersection of 48th & Pioneers, closed. Sheridan from 40th to Calvert and 27th to 33rd, closed. South Street blocked at 38th Street. I may even be missing some.
I’m one of the first to call for improvements to our infrastructure and these are needed projects, but some vision and planning around these projects would have been wonderful. The closure of Sheridan alone, has and continues to impact Calvert Elementary, Sheridan Elementary, Rousseau Elementary, Irving Middle, Southeast High, and Cathedral Schools. With all summer to have been working on these projects, they close the most critical sections during the school year!
I have two kids going to Southeast, and I can tell you, it is quite a journey getting there. Now, I strongly believe Lincoln needs to fix lots of streets – if you are a Lincoln native, you probably don’t realize just how bad of condition the streets are in here. I was recently in an oil patch – and only there are the roads this bad, and everybody is screaming about it out there.
So I asked city officials about this unusual confluence of construction around several schools. Thomas Shafer, design and construction section manager for the city, said the city generally tries not to close two adjacent streets within the same mile, which is why Van Dorn Street has remained construction free despite its condition. (There is some work being done on Van Dorn, however, but it appears to be utility-related, narrowing the street between about 26th and 29th.)
Shafer said when the projects were planned, reconstruction of the South Street bridge (as part of Antelope Valley) was scheduled to start in the fall of 2010 and be done by now. However, the first round of bidding only brought one extremely high bid, so it was re-bid. But since the electric lines (which carry our air conditioning energy) shouldn’t be out of service during times of high loads, the project then had to wait to start in the fall of 2011.
This wouldn’t have been a problem, because the city planned to have Sheridan Boulevard from 40th to Calvert complete before South Street began, but more of the underlying base on Sheridan needed repair than expected, and that project is now two to three weeks behind schedule.
Also, work on Pioneers Boulevard hasn’t gone as smoothly as hoped – as many private underground utilities are being found quite a ways from where records indicated they’d be, Shafer said.
And if that weren’t enough bad news, the opening of the intersection of 48th and Pioneers has been delayed because of the storm drainage needs discovered as the underground infrastructure gets exposed, he said.
But Shafer said two of the three north/south streets (33rd, 40th and 48th) have always remained open (never mind the east/west streets for now!) and Van Dorn has been unimpeded (well, except for those workers in orange out there) as well as “non-adjacent stretches” of South Street and Pioneers.
“While we all like to jump in our cars and drive straight to our destination, we ask for continued patience from Lincoln’s drivers has they work their way through and around the roadway construction,” Shafer said.
Traudt said this is an example of what happens with the city puts off needed infrastructure repairs for years, “and then is forced to do multiple, overlapping projects at the same time.”
“There is blame to be assigned over multiple administrations,” he said.
But Shafer is right, too: We Americans are kind of spoiled, and we definitely like to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, especially when gas is $3.59 a gallon. But we also desperately need to fix roads around here (maybe not Sheridan Boulevard, but that’s another blog), so we’re just going to have to, in the words of my mother, “suck it up.”
And the award for the worst pothole goes to…
Here at Winterized, we’re looking for some awesome, crater-like potholes and teeth-gnashing bumpy streets to photograph — and since we don’t drive every street in Lincoln every day, we need your help.
After all, we’d hate to snub any particularly troublesome spots.
Nominate your nemesis pothole or street by submitting a comment below, or by emailing email@example.com. Photos welcome.
Hey, if you can’t fill ’em, you might as well photograph ’em!
How much TIF leftover money is there lying around Lincoln?
On Monday, the Lincoln City Council was asked to approve using $400,000 worth of “leftover TIF” funds from an old redevelopment project to do a streetscape project a few blocks to the south.
The redevelopment project was at the Lincoln Star back — back when it was called the Lincoln Star and not the Lincoln Journal Star. The redevelopment project dates to 1996, and the value of the property involved has increased from $800,000 then to more than $4 million now.
Anyway, this is an example of a TIF project where the bonds have been paid off, and extra TIF money is sitting in a bank account. So the Urban Development Department comes up with a plan to use the money, by expanding the border of the original TIF district to include a new area, therefore allowing them to spend the money over there. In this case, they’re expanding from the Journal Star area to M Street from Seventh to 17th streets.
Today, I called for a full accounting or report from the city on all of the TIF funds that have this kind of “leftover” money in them. How many are there? How much money is in them? Can it be used for infrastructure needs in the area of the TIF districts? Should it be returned to the original taxing entities instead of used by the city? These are my questions.
This is not the first time the city has used leftover TIF funds for a nearby pet project. The city also plans to use leftover money from a Lincoln Mall project for Centennial Mall.
Here’s how the city sometimes ends up with extra TIF dollars: The city buys the TIF bonds, which are usually 15-year bonds, and if the project generates more property tax revenue than projected (which is often the case, since the city used to be very conservative in their estimates), the bonds can be paid off earlier than that. But the money that would have otherwise been property taxes instead accumulates in the TIF account.
Back when I was a reporter, I asked some council members about these TIF pots of money, but they seemed clueless about them. And uninterested. Well, I’m interested. Perhaps the money could be used for street work — but I wouldn’t blame the school district, county and NRD (to name the big ones) for feeling like they’d like some of this leftover TIF money, too.
In the Lincoln Star case, if the city chose to give the extra money to the taxing entities that would normally receive it, the city would only get $56,000, whereas the school district would get about $240,000. So you can see why the city prefers to keep the excess money all to itself.
Republicans about to lob a green grenade at Beutler Inc.?
Looks to me like the Republicans running for office in the city election are about to launch a green grenade at Mayor Chris Beutler’s administration.
I received a copy of an email that’s circulating around town inviting people to a March 25 meeting to talk about what is portrayed as Beutler’s sinister moves to cram sustainable development down the throats of Lincolnites. The flier starts off saying, “Have you heard about the REAL cleaner, greener Lincoln?” “Where is Mayor Beutler taking US?”
It goes on to inform people that Beutler signed on to the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, or ICLEI, an international association formed in 1990 to promote sustainable development. More than 1,200 cities, towns and counties and their associations are members of ICLEI, whose website says they are committed to sustainable development.
The flier says Beutler joined the group without a vote of the people or the City Council’s knowledge. It says Beutler has plans in place for “denser pack ’em, stack ’em housing” in Lincoln — which it says limits “freedom of choice of where we live.”
They also warn that the Beutler administration plans to increase government regulations to stifle entrepreneurs and business expansion and that “smart meters” will be in place by 2014, monitoring energy in Lincoln homes and businesses with “the ability to turn our power up and down without our knowledge?”
This sort of green grenade was also launched at a Denver mayor during the gubernatorial campaign in that state last October. According to the Denver Post, a Republican gubernatorial candidate said the mayor’s seemingly innocuous bike riding program and other environmental programs were actually intended to “convert Denver into a United Nations community” and were a threat to people’s personal freedom. He said ICLEI puts the environment above citizens’ rights.
Certainly, Lincoln’s green efforts have stepped up since the city received a $2.4 million federal stimulus grant in 2009 for efficiency programs. A new mayoral aide, Milo Mumgaard, was hired to launch the city’s “Cleaner, Greener Lincoln” program to make city government more energy-efficient — although as it has evolved, the program has expanded beyond city government to encourage all of Lincolnites to conserve energy. You’ve probably seen signs, billboards and advertisements around town.
However, alleging they’re part of some sinister plot to discourage development and submit to U.N. control — well, I’ll be interested to hear them connect those dots.
According to the flier, all of the Republican candidates in the spring city election will be at the meeting: Mayoral candidate Tammy Buffington and City Council candidates Chad Wright, Melissa Hilty and Travis Nelson. I asked Camp about it, and he said he was invited to a meeting about it — but couldn’t make it — and was surprised to see his name on this list.
The meeting is at 7 p.m. at Calvary Community Church, First and Superior streets. Don Raskey will be giving a presentation based on his research.