News item: City looks at ways to route truck traffic away from Florence business district.
That idea to move traffic from 30th Street has been bandied about since the 1930s. It’s older than the Mormon Bridge. Older than John J. Pershing Drive, the drive along the Missouri River that has been mentioned as a possible bypass.
Since Omaha and Florence were founded in the 1850s, the line of 30th Street in Florence has been their main link. The bend north of Miller Park was necessary to mesh the street grids of each because Florence was laid out at an angle to be parallel with the Missouri River.
The earliest Florence-Omaha roads left Omaha on the line that turned into Florence Boulevard. Saunders Avenue (16th Street), Florence Boulevard and 24th Street later were routes out of Omaha to the north that usually cut over on Fort Street to 30th.
As recently as the mid-1920s, 30th Street was a thoroughfare only to Lake Street. To the south, the path was narrow and not cut through between Nicholas and Cuming Streets. Once the city opened and widened it, the road became the route of U.S. Highway 73 and saw the explosion of truck traffic.
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One idea had 30th Street improved all the way to Woolworth Avenue at the north end of Hanscom Park, then routing traffic to 32nd Avenue and south to Dahlman Avenue as a way to the Omaha stockyards. It didn’t come to fruition. U.S. 73 instead was routed through downtown and south on 24th Street (later 13th Street) and the truck route to the stockyards used 16th Street and Vinton Street to get to 24th.
By 1935, Florence’s business district was concerned about busy 30th Street. The first attempt at moving traffic away was building a bypass — Northern Hills Drive — from U.S. 73/Calhoun Road to the 72th Street county road. “Thus saving hills and congestion of traffic on 30th and 24th Street,” a short item in The World-Herald in 1937 said.
Pershing Drive was created in a pursuit of a scenic river road for the city. In 1919, the consulting engineer for the city planning commission told The World-Herald that Omaha “by the expenditure of a comparatively small sum of money,” could acquire the entire river from Fontenelle Forest to Ponca Creek north of Florence for an opportunity unsurpassed by any other American and even most European cities.”
Pershing Drive and a winding path through Mandan Park, parts of which remain as Gifford Drive, were the result. Pershing Drive, which received its name in 1941 as a tribute to Gen. John J. Pershing (once a UNL professor), was opened in 1926 from the north end of Florence Boulevard at Read Street and connected with the existing river drive north of the MUD waterworks.
Florence since its founding had wanted a Missouri River bridge. The first territorial legislature approved the incorporation of the Florence Bridge Company in February 1855. The financial panic of 1857 delayed the plans to build on the exact site of the river crossing by the Mormons. Delayed it nearly 100 years.
A county bridge commission formed in 1950 had groundbreaking in 1951 and the Mormon Pioneer Bridge opened to traffic — girls from the nearby Uta Halee home were the first passengers to use it — in December 1952. The formal dedication the following May saw a strong representation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including a great-grandson of Brigham Young. Govs. Robert Crosby of Nebraska and William Beardsley of Iowa also attended.
The bridge opening brought a renewed effort for a Florence truck bypass. The Men’s Club of Florence in 1953 asked for 72nd Street to be improved by the county and state. What resulted was the upgrading of a county road into the Mormon Bridge Road from McKinley Street (connected to the bridge) to Redick Avenue.
Since then, the North Freeway (Interstate 580 at one time) was built to Fort Omaha with three forks — the Storz Expressway to the east, Sorensen Parkway following an old rail bed to the west and 30th Street. A 1973 study proposed extending the North Freeway to the 48th Street interchange on then-unbuilt I-680. The extension would have crossed 30th by Miller Park and gone northwest past Forest Lawn Cemetery to the east.
Now under study for making 30th Street safer are options that include the possible upgrade of Pershing Drive. Another is the extension of 16th Street across the Missouri River to connect with the first Iowa interchange on I-680 east of the Mormon Bridge. That was first proposed in 2005.
If neither option draws favor, how about this one? Upgrade the Mormon Bridge Road to four lanes. Truck traffic is the reason it was built in the first place.