A New Front Door to the Lincoln Airport

The roadways on the western edge of the City of Lincoln recently completed a major and much needed overhaul. This two phase effort, involving Nicolaus Road, south of the Lincoln Regional Airport, and Nelson Lane, between the Highway 65 Bypass and Nicolaus Road, has turned the functionally obsolete two lane roads into upgraded streets incorporating modern safety features. This challenging project, filled with a myriad of hurdles, was successfully completed with the final ribbon cutting in November 2014.

Until a few years ago, most of the roadways on the western fringe of the City were minor lanes in the agricultural expanses abutting the urbanized area. This status quo changed abruptly with the construction of the new Highway 65 Bypass, which routed significant traffic around Lincoln to the west. With this new transportation option, Nelson Lane and Nicolaus Road took on new importance and substantially more traffic as the prime routes to the Lincoln Regional Airport.  As a result, the dilapidated conditions, outdated safety features and obsolete bridge were thrust into the forefront of civic concern.

At first, the City of Lincoln thought of pursuing only a replacement of the Markham Ravine Bridge along Nelson Lane – a narrow weight-limited bridge that was built in 1940 and subject to overtopping during flooding.  However, a simple replacement of one element of the transportation network would not resolve the larger issues present for the area. Lincoln transformed the project plan to incorporate the roadways along Nicolaus and Nelson as well to provide a comprehensive solution to the airport accesses.

The first hurdle to the success of the project came with garnering financing beyond the original bridge grant. The more involved project required substantially more funding to accomplish. The City of Lincoln enlisted the help of Tony Frayji, the owner of Frayji Design Group, to help obtain supplemental financing.

An opportunity suddenly presented itself for a grant for the Nicolaus portion of the project, provided some very specific conditions were met. First, the application deadline for the grant was the very next day, a massive challenge given that no engineering estimate then existed. Second, the project would need to be completed in a year, a formidable challenge, especially from the permitting aspect. Thus, while the Nelson Lane Road had been the initial focus, the Nicolaus Road project actually moved to the forefront because of financing.

“We worked all night to create a viable estimate and produce the submittal package, “ Tony Frayji noted, “yet the final construction cost was under budget and accurate within 10%.” The transportation grant for Nicolaus was secured with the proposal, setting off new challenges. Teamed with Drake Haglan and Associates, Frayji Design Group was retained by the City of Lincoln to design the project.

Two of the most formidable challenges on the Nicolaus Project were the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the presence of wetlands. Either of these two factors could independently sink the project because of the long timelines often associated with federal agencies. However, the challenges were overcome. The FAA proved that mutually beneficial cooperation was achievable, providing straightforward restrictions such as no cranes in the flightpath and a highly coordinated system of informing the airport when even fenceposts associated with the security permitted were moved. These efforts kept the project on schedule.

Wetlands were approached in a different fashion. Since the normal process of wetland permitting would have consumed too much time that the project did not possess, the team employed an alternative approach: avoidance. While keeping the existing lane operational, the two new lanes were routed around the constraints, quite the challenge since some of the roadside ditches were identified as wetlands. The accelerated timeline continued into all aspects of the project, with the City delivering contract processing and design review at high speed. The path proved successful, with the project completed to the satisfaction of the City and within the grant parameters.

The second phase of the project along Nelson Lane presented its own challenges. The City of Lincoln pursued supplemental grants to the initial Federal Highway Administration funding to finance the $8.8 million enhanced vision for Nelson Lane. With a renewed budget, more issues needed to be coordinated. This half-mile stretch of roadway required coordination with Caltrans due to the connection with Highway 65 Bypass as well as negotiations with adjacent landowners to obtain needed right-of-way. Additionally, the presence of the Markham Ravine Bridge added structural and hydraulics aspects to the project.

Again the Frayji Design Group, servicing Sacramento and Roseville, – Drake Haglan and Associates team was retained by the City of Lincoln to deliver a high quality project. The initial alignment of the road was shifted to reduce right of way take on the west side of the road abutting existing homes. The larger take was made to the open lands of Peery-Arrilliga and Chris Gill on the east side of the project after fruitful negotiations, reducing both project cost and local landowner resistance. The road shift also opened up opportunities to save several of the larger oak trees that otherwise would have been impacted.

The roadway was designed according to Department of Transportation standards, allowing for smooth permitting by the State. Additionally, the grading associated with the existing drainage ditches was adjusted to meet the requirements of Caltrans, securing the needed encroachment permit.

Overseen and supported by a team including HDR and Frayji Design Group, Nelson Lane was constructed by the Knife River Corporation, who had earlier completed Nicolaus Road. The work was split into two major stages, allowing the new work to be created while existing traffic was maintained, and then routing traffic onto the new work while the old structure was demolished and replaced. As a result, the project was ably completed in less than one year with minimal issues during construction. According to City of Lincoln construction project manager Ray Leftwich, the construction schedule was “lightning fast” for a roadway project of this magnitude.

At the final ribbon cutting with a cadre of dignitaries in November 2014, Lincoln Mayor Gabriel Hydrick praised the efforts of all of the design team involved with the overall project and recognized the boost that the Nicolaus-Nelson improvement would have for the community in the future. Completing this vision provides safe upgraded roads for Western Lincoln just four years after the process was conceived. Now, with an accomplished vision, western Lincoln and the airport region is poised to develop economically in the upcoming years. With the challenges overcome, Mayor Hydrick could declare, “It feels great to be in a position to throw open the doors.”

Provided by Frayji Design Group, specializing Land Surveying, Construction management, and Civil Engineering

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