The Lincoln City Council will decide at a hearing next month whether to postpone the 14th Street, Warlick Boulevard and Old Cheney Road roundabout project.

Councilman Richard Meginnis' ordinance to delay it and divert $19.4 million of its planned funding into fixing streets was discussed Monday.

The council agreed to delay a vote on the proposal to Nov. 4, the next City Council meeting when all seven members will be present.

Meginnis' proposal already has effectively delayed the city's plan to seek bids for the project's construction. 

About two dozen people testified at a two-hour hearing on the ordinance, which would alter the fate of the $36 million infrastructure project.

Supporters of the ordinance expressed their disdain for the design of the roundabout, skepticism about whether it could be built within budget and the prudence of the project's timing.

Opponents of the ordinance support the project's construction and say it's a long-overdue solution to easing rush-hour congestion in the area, while making the intersections safer. 

"Putting it off does not accomplish anything," said project proponent Mary Barton, who lives off Old Cheney Road. 

A delay may drive costs up 5% each year because of annual inflation in construction, she and others said. 

But Lincoln Zehr called that argument "absolutely asinine," because the same argument could be made for the street repairs Lincoln needs now that will also cost more in the future. 

Delaying the project and spending planned money on existing street improvements would better serve the community and offer the city a chance to see the impact the construction of the South Beltway has on area traffic, he and others said.

Mike James showed a series of pictures of the intersection compared to other rough streets, and called the intersection of 14th Street, Old Cheney Road and Warlick Boulevard "three of the nicest intersections in town."

"We need to get our priorities in order," James said.

Todd Wiltgen and Bruce Bohrer of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce asked the council to reject the attempt to delay the project. 

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The designed project best solves the traffic and safety problems within the constraints of the area, they said.

"You’re not going to get 100% support," Bohrer said.

Meginnis proposed the ordinance in part because of traffic detour concerns he sees with simultaneous construction of the South Beltway and the seven-intersection transformation in the 14th and Old Cheney area. 

Interim Lincoln Transportation and Utilities Director Tom Casady said his staff doesn't believe those traffic challenges would be "insurmountable." 

In Lincoln on Northwest 48th Street and in Omaha with the West Dodge Expressway and interstate improvements, large-scale state and city infrastructure improvements were completed because the work was phased, he said. 

"We’re talking about lane closures, not complete closures," Casady said of this project.

Short commutes of Lincoln residents have long given the city an advantage over some of its peers, Curt Donaldson said.

This project improves the capacity for the 39,000 drivers passing through that intersection each day and helps the city keep its advantage, he said.

Diana Schilf of the Realtors Association of Lincoln quoted former mayor and project proponent Chris Beutler in asking the council to pass the ordinance and delay the project.

As Beutler said in delaying a referendum on the West Haymarket arena in 2009 because of the bad economy, "Delay does not mean abandonment," she said.

Beutler, who publicly defended the roundabout project last year as then-City Councilwoman Cyndi Lamm sought its delay, didn't offer public testimony and declined to respond to Schilf's comment Monday.

Schilf said it was time for the council, with four new members — and a new mayor — to take a harder look.

"Don’t fall victim to failure of imagination," Schilf said. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.


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