Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Are 2 City Councils Better Than 1?

by Kyle Michaelis
Well, maybe I should ask "Are 1 1/2 City Councils better than one," since less than half of Omaha's city council showed up for the annual meeting with their Lincoln counterparts. Perhaps this demonstates Omaha's approach to their I-80 neighbor - patronizing and half-assed, though likely short-sighted in the long-run.

While Lincoln does need Omaha, largely for its growing tax base's ability to feed state government, it's clear both cities can benefit one another by working together and pooling resources when necessary. These two cities in conjunction represent so mighty a percentage of Nebraska's population that they can accomplish great things by coordination and careful planning. The sky is the limit (or, in this instance, perhaps a high speed train).

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
Put the heads of the Lincoln and Omaha city councils together and what do you get?

Two hours of talking about everything from a light rail system between the cities to the possibility of terrorist cells in Nebraska.

The Lincoln City Council and Omaha City Council got together for their annual meeting Wednesday, although only three of the seven Omaha members showed up. The mayors of Lincoln and Omaha also met privately.

The councils talked about the Interstate 80 corridor committee being assembled, ways to pay for growth, joint rescue operations during crises, legislation they both support and the cities’ underfunded police and fire pension funds....

Omaha Councilman Garry Gernandt brought up the issue of how much Lincoln and Omaha could help each other during major natural disasters. He wondered whether interlocal agreements should be made in advance of crises, saying a terrorism expert had evidence Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas have been targeted for terrorist cells.

“Whether you accept it or not, ladies and gentlemen, they are here,” he said....

Lincoln Councilwoman Patte Newman suggested a light rail system between the cities be studied by the Interstate 80 corridor committee. And Omaha Councilman Jim Suttle said the cities need to be thinking in terms of a transportation corridor, much like Texas is planning 50 years out with its plans for a mammoth road across that state.

Frankly, I think a light rail system between Omaha and Lincoln is just the forward-thinking, big idea that this state needs in the 21st century. I want to thank Newman and Suttle for their daring to look beyond the next wave of endless Interstate construction for systemic changes and progressive development.

Of course, paying for an idea like light rail, not to mention the additional expenses it would imply for both cities' public transportation, is where the real hang-up lies. But, the longer we wait to be bold, environmentally-friendly, and - yes - leaders in public planning, the farther behind we will fall.

We must work to maximize and emphasize these two great cities' close proximity as an asset to the entire state. What is good for one is good for the other. What is good for both is good for Nebraska.

Unless we don't want to succeed because it will make us a more likely terrorist target? "They are here"..."they are here" and cover!


Anonymous Mr. Wilson said...

I've spent a lot of time thinking about the value of a light rail system linking Omaha and Lincoln. My conclusion? Well, I don't have high hopes.

I'm not opposed to protecting a corridor for a future rail system of some sort. But the level of need necessary to justify the costs of such a system is several decades away. Traveling between Lincoln and Omaha by personal automobile is too convenient to warrant mass transit alternatives, and the journey will only become easier with the completion of the widening of I-80.

Each community's first transportation priority needs to be figuring out how to operate efficient transportation systems within the cities themselves. After all, what good is a light rail system that drops you off in a place with no good local transportation options? The costs of intracity transportation solutions alone will keep both Omaha and Lincoln busy for years.


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