Override of governor’s veto could help complete trail connecting Omaha, Lincoln

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Published: Apr. 6, 2022 at 10:01 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - After receiving the new state budget bill from the Unicameral, Governor Pete Ricketts shaved just over $51 million in spending from the bill through line-item vetoes.

Within those cuts, Ricketts slashed in half the $8.3 million that was approved by legislators to help complete the MoPac trail, a bike trail that would connect Omaha and Lincoln. The governor said, “The business case for this project showed significant economic development tied to the completion of this trail, but private funding must be a part of the solution to balance the substantial pledge of taxpayer dollars.”

The item was introduced by west Omaha State Senator Robert Hilkemann, an avid bicyclist himself.

“When you develop those trails well, the impact they have for tourism is huge,” he tells 6 News.

Hilkemann says the biking community in eastern Nebraska has wanted the MoPac trail to be completed for years.

“When we get that completed, that’s going to be a very popular ride for riders from Lincoln to Omaha, Omaha to Lincoln, they’ll love that trail.”

Right now, the trail runs from west Omaha to South Bend and crosses the Platte River via the Lied pedestrian bridge, which was repaired last summer following the 2019 flooding.

“You can get over the river and then the trail stops. There’s an 8-mile gap and then it picks up again in what used to be Wabash, it’s this tiny little burg, unincorporated spot, and then it goes from Wabash into Elmwood, Eagle, Lincoln,” says Julie Harris, the executive director of Bike Walk Nebraska.

Senator Hilkemann knows the price of the project is steep.

“I will admit it’s very expensive, the reason it hasn’t been done with volunteer donations and so forth, it’s a drainage issue that’s very costly,” he says.

Hilkemann is thankful that the governor didn’t completely shelf the project but says that the $4 million will likely only cover the cost of repairing the drainage issue in the area where the trail isn’t built. That money wouldn’t cover the cost of the trail’s actual construction.

It’s more than just completing a trail, Hilkemann and Harris say. By finishing the trail, it will mean more growth, especially for small towns along the way.

“Connecting our two largest cities with a completely off-road trail would be huge,” Harris adds. “We know that bicycle tourism really spurs a lot of economic impact.”

“All along that area it’s going to develop, there’s going to be small restaurants, down the line there will be bed and breakfasts that might develop,” Hilkemann adds. “This will become a big economic factor for the state of Nebraska particularly for cyclists, those hiking and things of that sort, there will be a lot of development that will go along those trails.”

“All these tiny communities, to be able to get people to come in on their bikes, stopping, grabbing a beverage getting some lunch, whatever it might be, staying overnight, the economic impact is really really going to be felt the most in Cass county,” Harris says.

By completing the trail, it will also provide access to other regional and national trails.

“In the regional bigger picture, getting this 8-mile segment done will connect 260 miles from end to end, from Kansas all the way up, over and back down into Iowa,” Harris says.

The national Rails-to-Trails campaign would also use the completed trail to pass through the state of Nebraska. The trail would connect Washington D.C. to Washington state.

“Not only would getting the length between Lincoln and Omaha be a wonderful thing for the community, the greater thing is that the national plan for the Rail-to-Trail will take it right through Nebraska!”

An override vote of the governor’s veto will take place on Thursday, Hilkemann says.

If there are enough votes, the bill could be granted the full $8.3 million to complete the trail and repair the drainage issues.

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