Replacing 42nd Street bridge comes at a cost for South Omaha

Replacing the 42nd and D Street bridge will be a complex project impacting traffic
Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 11:04 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Built in 1960, the two-part bridge on 42nd Street covering C and D streets, spanning Union Pacific tracks, is way past its time.

Considered a structurally deficient bridge by the Federal Highway Administration, about 38,000 vehicles cross it just south of I-80 every day. For at least a year, they’re gonna shut it down.

Business owner Tim Parys can already feel the pain that is coming to this congested area. He has been operating here for 40 years, and knew the time was coming. He just didn’t expect a complete shutdown.

”Three years ago they came to us in a meeting with the community and said they were going to shut it down, but a half (lane) at a time, so we were preparing for that,” Parys said. “Then Covid hit and they put it off and a month ago I got this mailer that shows the bridge (is to be shut) down completely.”

Ouch indeed. With a tentative start date of October 6, 42nd Street will close at D Street immediately south of the I-80 off-ramp. Tear-down will begin soon thereafter, and construction of a new bridge will begin early next year.

In the meantime, detours will be challenging, considering the volume of cars already jamming the streets south of the interstate.

”Now we’re gonna take these 37,000 cars and we’re gonna throw ‘em on the side streets,” nearby resident Lynn Robison said. “We asked them if they can at least keep one half of 42nd Street open here during the construction, do one side and then go do the other side, and they absolutely said no, we cannot do that.

But the City of Omaha Capital Construction Street Maintenance Engineer Austin Rowser said that was determined to be out of the question.

Plus the decision means a one-year two-lane closure as opposed to a 30-month traffic mess through already tight streets..

“The timeline was part of it but the biggest issue that caused us to make the decision to go to the full shutdown was safety,” Rowser said. “There’s a couple intersections there, the dynamic of traffic and having that down to one lane each direction and then with turn movements and it was really a huge risk to the traveling public to have that open throughout the duration of the project.”

“You got proximity to the interstate, you’ve got ramps right there on the north side of that bridge and then there’s the street with heavy truck traffic and industrial traffic that goes down D Street, so from a safety standpoint, really the concern was making sure that we’re not harming citizens and motorists with the project,” he added.

Further concern was raised over a sign at the corner of F Street and 42nd Street, saying that F Street will be closed at the 45th Street bridge on Tuesday, September 6. That is a basic deck resurfacing repair, and is not expected to coincide with the replacement of the D Street bridge. Rowser said the deck project is simple maintenance, and should not take long to complete. Updates on the timelines will be available on the city website.

Still, anything adding to the congestion frustrates local business owners like Parys, who thinks the city should have revisited public forums for input, rather than simply inform the public what would be done when they held a meeting last week.

“You know you’re gonna do this and it’s gonna have a huge impact on the community, so you better get a bunch of engineers together to make a decision,” Parys said.

“Why couldn’t they have come to the public and ask us our opinions?” the owner of the Pit Stop Repair and Gas Station said. “You know when I got to make changes here at the store or the shop, I get my employees involved because they have the best ideas, and I think the public could help on this decision.”

Some businesses will struggle to survive with their interstate business cut off. Parys hopes he’ll only have to trim hours for his 17 employees here and there, but knows that other challenges will mount on the community.

”Yeah, it’s gonna be tough on us, but I’m more worried about the school buses every day, fire and rescue, you know they’re right up the street from me now, they’re gonna have to come from Q Street, that’s their quickest, that’s an additional three to four minutes,” he said. “This summer I believe we’ve had 12 incidents where I’ve had to call 911, we even had one guy overdose right in front of our cashier there and they had to come in here and shoot him up (with naloxone) and so those are kind of things we deal with on a daily basis here.”

The community in this area will be impacted in other ways. Metro routes will change, for example. Allison Yargis and her family have lived nearby for two decades, and she relies on the bus.

“It’s probably (going to) take a lot longer to go help people, help my grandma out, and get from one side of the interstate to the other,” she said while waiting for her bus to pick her up at the corner of 42nd and D Street. “It’s gonna be nerve-wracking.”

The city posts updates to construction projects and closures on the internet. Rowser said that will include access to the South Omaha Trail, which parallels the Union Pacific line under the bridge and is popular with cyclists.

“The bike trail will, for the most part, stay open,” Rowser said. “There could be some intermittent shutdowns if we’ve got some heavy equipment that has to have short-term access.”

Omaha has actually made steady progress in replacing or repairing aging bridges. Since 2017, the state has addressed nearly 200 structurally deficient bridges.

“In the city of Omaha we just got rid of our last fracture critical bridge on Q Street several years ago,” Rowser said. " The 42nd Street bridge is not fracture-critical but it’s very similar because it does have a same type of construction, it does have more girders than a true fracture critical bridge, so it has a little bit more support but still not the non-ideal structure for today’s world.”