Underpass needs repair, city needs more tax money

GRAND ISLAND, Neb.- Keeping up with aging infrastructure while holding the line on spending. Cities nationwide face that dilemma every day.

It's one of the reasons a central Nebraska city is asking residents to approve an increased local sales tax this November. Wednesday Grand Island officials led a tour of one project requiring attention.

An average 7500 cars a day use the Sycamore Street underpass in Grand Island. Another 1200 cross the South Front Street bridge over the underpass. They've been maintained over the years, but at nearly 70 years old, more work needs to be done.

“As far as eminent collapse, it's not in that condition,” said Jay Bleier, an engineer with Benesch Company. “This bridge is still going to be structurally adequate right now. It's the near future that we're talking about."

City public works director John Collins - who led a media tour of the underpass - has been working on cost and design options for the repairs.

"This has been on my list since I first arrived in Grand Island about five years ago. So, starting today we're hoping maybe 2019 or so construction could start."

Grand Island voters will be asked in November to increase the city sales tax by one-half of a percent.

Grand Island Mayor Jeremy Jensen is among officials wanting to point out where the money might go.

"Absolutely right, nobody likes to pay more in tax,” said Jensen. “But I’ll also tell you I think people feel OK paying tax so long as they understand what it's being used for."

With deterioration and age starting to show in the underpass, a repair project is inevitable. It's the type of project that the half-cent sales tax would help pay for, but even without it, the money's got to come from somewhere.

"I’d would love to be able to look people in the eye and say 'Hey I can guarantee you that we're going to lower property taxes’. I can't do that, but I can tell you that if we don't do it, they will have to increase."

Collins said he would like to see construction on Sycamore Street underpass repairs begin by 2019.