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Interstate 80

Traffic moves along Interstate 80 east from the overpass at exit 420 on Saturday morning, December 24, 2011. (JACOB HANNAH/Lincoln Journal Star)

Commuters traveling between Lincoln and Omaha have long clamored for an easier way of getting to work, one that saved them gas money and headaches in traffic.

Now, the Nebraska Department of Transportation is conducting a feasibility study for a potential bus route between Lincoln and Omaha. A trio of public meetings – in Greenwood (Wednesday), Lincoln (Thursday) and Omaha (Friday) – should shine additional light on this idea, the study of which should be finished next spring.

As public transit between Nebraska’s two largest cities has grown in recent years, exploring a larger-scale program makes sense. A solution that could simultaneously ease wear and tear on Nebraska’s highways while cutting emissions – both by reducing the number of vehicles on heavily traveled roads – merits further consideration.

The state has mentioned its inspiration is the Colorado Bustang, a program that connects Fort Collins, Grand Junction and Colorado Springs to Denver, in addition to a handful of “outrider” destinations in smaller cities located in more remote areas.

Nebraska could certainly do worse than to study the Rocky Mountain State in this regard. Unlike Lincoln and Omaha, Denver has integrated a light rail system into its robust public transit system. The Bustang routes include stops at major hubs for both local bus and train service – such as downtown’s Union Station – which allows riders to capitalize on whichever means of transportation is best.

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Without similar infrastructure in place, Lincoln and Omaha have to consider how to efficiently move people across the metro area once they arrive from the other city. No doubt other changes will follow, if this study deems this path feasible.

Regardless, such an effort could build upon newer programs the state has expanded in recent years.

In 2017, the Department of Roads (now part of the Department of Transportation) launched incentives for vanpooling. This practice uses federal money, up to $400 each month, toward the costs for a rental van to shuttle groups of between seven and 15 between two destinations on a regular basis.

That December, the Journal Star reported that some 4,000 commuters travel between in Lincoln and Omaha on a daily basis, building upon programs that some businesses had already begun on their own. Within a few months, companies such as Hudl and Gallup launched the first such vanpools in the state under the DOT’s GoNEWhere banner. More have since followed in both urban and rural areas.

As Nebraska looks for additional longer-range transportation efficiencies, the possibility of bus service between the Lincoln and Omaha metro areas – nearly 60% of all Nebraskans live within their three most-populous counties, after all – offers intriguing potential.

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