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Twenty years in the making: Antelope Valley project a success for Lincoln

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Linda Van Hoosen, Communications

The timing was right for the largest infrastructure project in Lincoln, Nebraska. The project had been needed for some time, but in the mid-1990s, it all came together. The Antelope Valley project, an effort that would reshape much of downtown Lincoln, began and its work would continue on for the better part of two decades.

The city’s goal for the $240 million project was to reduce traffic congestion, eliminate urban flooding along Antelope Creek, and improve traffic circulation while stimulating economic and recreation development. The flood control portion of the project would restore open-channel flows and reduce flooding along the creek near downtown Lincoln. It was designed to contain the 1-percent annual chance event, or 100-year flood, within its banks. The roadway design was closely coordinated with the open channel to follow a common corridor along the eastern fringe of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s (UNL) campus. Olsson Associates was brought in as a subconsultant to Parsons Brinckerhoff in 1995 to provide a variety of services.

 Olsson’s efforts, in conjunction with Parsons Brinckerhoff, included assembly and review of existing and projected traffic data, one-on-one meetings with major stakeholders, operational analysis, safety analysis, travel demand forecasting, and evaluation of alternative roadway concepts. Many complex transportation issues included pedestrian safety, safety of at-grade rail crossings, various neighborhood concerns, and closing existing roadways. The project began with a major investment study presented to the public to determine a plan.

Tom Leikam, project manager, said the project was met with more approval in the mid-1990’s than in previous attempts. The difference? The public was initially asked what they wanted this project to do.

“It’s probably one of the closest things you would see in terms of consensus building,” Tom said. “The biggest success of Antelope Valley was the fact that we were actually able to build the project. Lincoln had tried to build it years ago and the people shot it down. We solicited for input up front, instead of the conventional approach of ‘this is what we want to build’ and have them react to it.”

“We had a pretty significant public involvement process and it wasn’t just presenting the information to solicit for their input,” said Rick Herrick, who was the Transportation team leader at the time. “We created an aesthetic for the project and showed [stakeholders] a series of designs to choose from. We developed a process and created a vision of what the project was going to look like, and we delivered the vision.”

In 2000, the Joint Antelope Valley Authority (JAVA) was created to see the project through completion. It was a joint public agency comprised of the City of Lincoln, UNL, and Lower Platte South Natural Resources District (NRD).

“It was a very interesting coalition of groups,” said Tom. “Besides JAVA, you had a partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state of Nebraska. JAVA worked with the state on the fairgrounds for this project. Once the open channel was done, it opened up an opportunity for development on an area that had been in the floodplain.”

The designs of the open channel and roadways are unique to Lincoln. However, members of JAVA, Olsson, and others involved in the project took tours of similar projects in Kansas City and Denver to get some insight for how complex projects like these work.

When the public thinks about the Antelope Valley project, the creek channel gets most of the attention, but there’s much more to the project.

“You have to remember, we couldn’t have built that channel without going through and doing the other work associated with it, such as the roadway,” said Tom. “The two had to go hand in hand, and that’s where everyone came together on that. The NRD’s primary emphasis was flood control. The city always wanted to do something in terms of transportation while City Urban Development was looking to redevelop this area.”

Olsson helped design traffic improvements including a dozen new bridges, more than six miles of new roadway, and the elimination of railroad crossings. We also created and improved recreational facilities such as Union Plaza, new trails, the Jayne Snyder Trail Center, and Lewis Ballfields. The new roadway skirts along the eastern edge of the UNL campus. UNL saw an opportunity to enhance its campus by getting a major arterial roadway near it. Olsson helped design a roadway that allowed the project to minimize impacts to both UNL and the neighboring homes.

 

“[The new arterial road] basically put a border between the neighborhood and the downtown campus,” said Rick.

 

The Antelope Valley project was completed in 2012. Since its completion, the open channel contained several major flood events in the last several years. The project removed about 50 acres from the floodplain and eliminated the need for flood insurance for area residences and businesses. It opened the door for major developments such
as a baseball complex.

“One of the very first projects out of the gate was Fleming Fields, a facility that came as a result of the Antelope Valley project,” said Tom. “Many projects came on the coattails of Antelope Valley. The Assurity campus, UNL’s Innovation Campus, the Vine Street Corridor, university housing -- Antelope Valley was something that was really geared to be more of an overall community-oriented project and not just focused on infrastructure.”

JAVA work came to a close in July of this year because of the completion of the Antelope Valley project. The project earned several awards, including a 2012 “Crown Community” award from American City and County Magazine and the 2013 Merit Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies(ACEC)/Nebraska’s Engineering Excellence Awards.

For a complete list of Olsson’s work in this project, click here.

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