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GRAPHIC-Fremont City Council

Officials are scrambling to protect the 23rd Street viaduct's place in line for federal funding after Fremont city officials received a phone call from the Nebraska Department of Roads last week.

Representatives of Kirkham Michael and Associates, the firm working on the environmental phase, presented a project update Tuesday during a city council study session.

The firm and city officials will meet Monday with the Roads Department, Federal Highway Administration and State Historic Preservation Office representatives to work out details and keep the project moving forward.

City Administrator Dale Shotkoski said Mayor Scott Getzschman received the initial call from the Department of Roads last week. Since then, Shotkoski, Getzschman and City Engineer Clark Boschult have been on the phone twice with the Roads Department.

"What the state is doing," Shotkoski said, "is looking at the list of projects they have in front of them, and then allocating funds to the projects that are most ready to go. This project has been identified by them as one that has been on the table so long, if it's not ready to go to the final design, not ready to go to the right-of-way acquisition, if we're going to use their funds and we're not ready to go, they may reallocate those funds to something that is ready to go.

"It's not like the money's going to go away forever, but our position in line for funding may be pushed back. What we're trying to do is preserve our place in line," he said.

"What it's going to take is us getting some documents to the state, and getting a public hearing done, and getting these last few hurdles cleared," he said.

Kirkham Michael currently is working on the environmental assessment, a process that began in 2004, was actually approved for circulation in 2006, but then got hung up by changes in leadership at the federal level that altered interpretations of rules, said Mike Olson, project manager for Kirkham Michael.

"What becomes part of the complication in the process is trying to adapt an old document to current standards and current interpretations," Olson explained.

The city council in January approved a $77,000 supplemental agreement with Kirkham Michael, in part to hire a sub-consultant to help respond to environmental assessment study comments from the Department of Roads.

Olson said issues his firm is working on include how to deal with an airport hangar, the Monsoon car wash and city trail system, which would all be affected by the viaduct.

"This existing hangar is eligible as a historic property. It contributes to the entire area associated with the original terminal building and the original hangar there," Olson said.

The car wash building was identified as the only building of its kind along the historic Lincoln Highway, "so it has a historical significance," he said.

And trails will temporarily be closed during construction.

The hangar and trail system are city property, and the city is going to acquire the car wash building, Shotkoski said. As the owner of items the Department of Roads has identified as needing to be addressed, the city will be in the best position to make accommodations, he pointed out.

When the draft assessment is finished, Olson said, it will be submitted to the Roads Department again.

"I would anticipate that if there are any comments from NDOR they're going to be minor, we'll get those addressed and NDOR will forward the document to FHWA," he said. "They will review the draft and I'm absolutely certain they will have comments. Again we'll take those comments and address them. When we get them addressed to the satisfaction of FHWA, they will sign the document."

The document will be open for public comment for 30 days and a public hearing will be held, and then a final document will be submitted in hopes of federal approval.

"I don't feel it's a monumental task (to get to that point)," Olson said. "It's going to depend a lot upon their cooperation and their willingness to accelerate their end of the project. ... If they're looking for a signed environmental document by July 1, we can achieve that, but we're going to have to work together to make that happen.

"A good initial start is this meeting we're going to have on Monday, and to find out what the actual deadlines are and what we can do to cooperate," Olson said. "I think the other thing we've been doing well is just making sure people are aware that this project is still important to the city of Fremont, so we want to get this job moving forward, and to you as a council, any idea of jeopardizing funds would be unacceptable."

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