More than 130 area stakeholders recently got the chance to learn about options for a potential downtown viaduct along 23rd Avenue.
A representative from engineering firm Wilson and Company and architecture organization Confluence led three separate meetings (noon and 5 p.m. Aug. 2nd and 9 a.m. Aug. 3rd) in the Community Room of the Columbus Community Building to give the invited downtown business and property owners ample opportunity to hear about options and provide feedback.
“The stakeholders really showed up, which is fantastic,” City Engineer Rick Bogus said after the third meeting. “There were a lot of good questions and a lot of good information was shared with them.”
The idea for a downtown viaduct wasn’t pulled out of thin air. It has been a hot topic of discussion in the community for years, with various studies about it dating back as far as 1988. In the early 2000s, City officials made plans to consider exploring viaducts or pedestrian crossings at Third, 12th and 18th avenues. There were also plans made to look at a viaduct and pedestrian crossing in the downtown district. The Third Avenue viaduct and the pedestrian crossings at 12th and 18th avenues have since come to fruition, so 23rd Avenue would be a logical next step.
More recently, during Columbus Days in 2021, data collection was done to begin getting Columbus residents’ feedback on what they would like to see happen. That survey, which generated more than 520 responses online and on paper, asked questions like “how do you cross the tracks?”
The three options presented for 23rd Avenue factored in all of that data, the very specific regulations Union Pacific has and that 65 properties in the vicinity are on the National Register of Historic Places, among other things. They were labeled “23rd Ave Existing Alignment,” “23rd Ave East Shift” and “26th Ave to 23rd Ave Curved”
- 23rd Ave Existing Alignment would create an overpass along 23rd Avenue and maintain it as a primary traffic corridor and create two underpasses on the south side of the tracks.
- 23rd Ave East Shift would also maintain 23rd as a primary traffic corridor while also creating three underpasses and traffic circulation on lower streets
* The two options above would require a separate pedestrian overpass structure to be built on 26th Avenue to provide a connecting point to central downtown.
- 26th Ave to 23rd Ave Curved would see the viaduct angle over the railroad tracks by taking vehicles back and forth from 26th and 23rd avenues. The pedestrian overpass would be part of the design structure of this concept. It would have no impact on 13th or 14th streets, require only one overpass on 11th and provide the most area for programmable spaces underneath.
The presenters also discussed the potential for activating the spaces below the viaduct with options like a dog park, parking, a flexible event venue, a skate park or an art area.
(ABOUT THE PHOTOS: Downtown stakeholders listen during the Thursday evening meeting. TOP PHOTO: Downtown stakeholders at the Thursday afternoon meeting.)
Each session left time for questions from those in attendance, which generated plenty of good conversation. More specifics, such as the cost and funding for each option, were not shared as those would have to be reviewed down the road once enough public feedback has been provided to know what is favorited.
“We’re just trying to develop a concept and the best possible options based on all the information,” Bogus said. “We’ll have to narrow it down to take the next step and come up with a good number.”
Two things are certain: Once a concept is developed and the cost is factored in, the project would go to a public vote. It would be funded via a three-way agreement among the Nebraska Department of Transportation, Union Pacific and the City of Columbus. The project could qualify for federal grants, it was noted.
“They’re all interested in the project. It’s just a matter of getting an agreement together once we have a concept,” Bogus said.
There are no imminent plans or guarantee the project will happen. Once a concept is selected through public feedback and funding is worked out, voters would have to decide to approve it.
Of course, the general public will have a chance to hear more about a potential downtown viaduct and weigh in as officials will be presenting on Aug. 12th during Columbus Days. A booth will be set up in Frankfort Square, where people can learn about it and provide input.
There will also be a public open house for everyone from 4-7 p.m. Aug. 29th in the Community Room (third floor) of the Columbus Community Building, 2500 14th St.