Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

By Jacob Misener

Underpass project remains in limbo

Status of project is still being evaluated by city officials


Lauren Graziano

The Kimball Underpass project, which has been debated for over a decade, is being re-evaluated before any progress can be made on it.

Don’t expect the storied underpass in Kimball to be renovated any time soon.

According to officials from the City of Kimball, the project, which has been an ongoing debate for over a decade, is caught up in regulations that come with the designation of funds from the federal government.

“As I understand it, funds came mostly from the feds,” said Daniel Ortiz, Kimball City Administrator. “When you’re dealing with federal funds, there’s all sorts of hoops we have to jump through to get them to sign off on it.”

According to documents obtained through the Kimball-Banner County Chamber of Commerce, the City of Kimball received two proposals roughly twelve months ago that detailed two distinct approaches to the renovation project.

One approach maintains the structure’s current historical ties, which are abundant. The underpass was constructed in 1940, and the now-famous stone slopes of the underpass were constructed by WPA workers, under Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency.

Due to the countless storms that have hit Kimball over the past 73 years, the original berm has begun to erode. The stones, however, have required virtually no upkeep at all.

“The cost to re-do it is far less than trying to do something that’s new and different,” said Jeanette Rabender, former Executive Director of the Kimball-Banner County Chamber of Commerce. “The stone there is from a quarry that no longer exists. These rocks are precious to the community.”

The second proposal is a much more sleek and modern design, including the replacing of these stones with cement and greenery.

The cost difference between the two proposals, which were given to the City of Kimball five years ago, is a key factor in the ongoing debate amongst community leaders. The historical proposal has a price tag of approximately $361,000, while the second proposal comes with a cost nearly tripled that, just shy of $900,000.

In July of 2010, the City Council made a motion to proceed with the $361,000 project. However, Mayor Schnell voted no, breaking the deadlocked vote, and a motion was made to proceed with the alternative proposal, and it came back with a total price tag of over $1.4 million, according to Chamber of Commerce documents.

Following the submission of the proposal, the Nebraska Department of Roads contacted the mayor, informing him that a public hearing must be held, in order to openly discuss all potential options with members of the community, but no such event was ever held. Some in the community believe the lack of action that was demonstrated here is one of the biggest problems facing this project.

“When they told me that it had been twelve years, I asked that whether they thought that was a bit ridiculous,” said Rabender, concerning a meeting last summer with the city council concerning the apparent lack of progress on the project.

Last year, the City of Kimball received a letter from the State of Nebraska stating that if the project was not going to be pursued, that the money given to the city by both the state and federal government should be returned immediately.

“So much time has happened since we originally started this, so we’re in the process of evaluating environmental studies and some of those things done before would still be valid, or see what we have to re-do,” said Ortiz.

With the funds still under control of the City of Kimball, the project is currently in a holding pattern as the responsible charger – a person who meets the qualifications dictated by the state – assesses the current status of the project, and what steps need to be taken from here.

“There will probably need to be updates because of when things originally happened, and where we are now,” said Ortiz. “Once our responsible charge gets back to us, we’ll see what we can reincorporate back into our project. There will be public hearings that will be held then.”


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