The City of Fremont is in the process of creating a Broad Street heavy truck traffic task force, officials revealed on Thursday, in an effort to help resolve concerns about semi-tractor trailer traffic on the primarily residential section of Broad Street between Military Avenue and 23rd Street.
Justin Zetterman, Fremont’s director of Public Works, said the proposed task force is still being developed and formed, but will most likely be composed of representatives from the Fremont Police Department; city Planning Director Jennifer Dam; himself and City Council Members James Vaughan and Dev Sookram.
“It was something I suggested to several council members. Dev Sookram and James Vaughan are the council members who’ve been most interested. Jennifer Dam asked to be on it, and it will include the police department officials,” Zetterman explained. “The group will come up with a format to better get public comment and feedback to give to the city council.”
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Zetterman said one issue that’s arisen with addressing the proposed ban on heavy truck traffic during city council meetings is the format of public comment.
During the last council meeting of each month, citizens have 30 minutes to discuss issues with the council. However, any item on the meeting agenda cannot be commented on under council rules. If the truck ban proposal is a regular agenda item, then citizens can ask to make public comments during the council’s discussion of the issue.
Zetterman noted that the rules in place, as well as the issue not normally being on an agenda for every meeting created a challenge in getting input and opinions on the proposed truck ban from both residents and business owners with heavy truck needs.
Hence, his idea for the taskforce.
“Our plan is to kind of set up the task force, one that can meet with the public, meet with trucking companies,” he explained. “As a group, we can then determine if we need members of the public on the task force and make it bigger to allow (the public) to be involved.”
The specifics of when the task force will meet and its proposed members are not finalized, Zetterman stressed, but was an idea that he said he had recommended to both Vaughan and Sookram following several city council meetings in July.
During the July 11 and July 25 meetings of the council, both residents of the several-mile stretch of Broad Street and officials from companies that utilize heavy trucks for their business needs complained to the Fremont City Council about the truck traffic on the street.
Those concerns centered on a possible plan by the City of Fremont to totally ban heavy truck and semi-tractor trailer traffic on Broad Street between Military Avenue and 23rd Street. The proposal was part of the change in jurisdiction of the roadway, shifting from the State of Nebraska ownership to the City of Fremont control.
On Nov. 29, 2022, the city council unanimously voted to accept an agreement with the State of Nebraska which would shift the jurisdiction of the 3.4-mile segment of U.S. Highway 77 from the intersection of the highway and Cloverly Road on the south side of the city to the intersection of the highway with Judy Avenue and Judy Drive north of 23rd Street.
That change was due in large part to the new Fremont Southeast Beltway, a bypass route of U.S. Highway 77 that shifts traffic from going through downtown Fremont and instead allows that traffic to connect to U.S. Highway 275 south of Morningside Road.
The main goal of the Fremont Southeast Beltway, a 3.2-mile segment of four-lane highway, was to help reduce heavy truck traffic through the city center of Fremont, replacing the route directly through the city’s downtown on Broad Street.
The Broad Street corridor is still an officially designated truck route under city ordinance and any change to that would require council approval over three readings and votes. On July 11, the council heard an agenda item that would have banned heavy truck traffic on the stretch of street. No action was taken on the proposed ordinance due to heavy criticism of the plan that was lobbed at elected leaders, including Mayor Joey Spellerberg.
Zetterman provided an update to the council on the proposal in July 11, telling the seven members present that the city’s Utilities and Infrastructure Board had recommended not changing the route until the Bell Street viaduct/bridge construction project is completed — estimated completion is in November.
“When do we no longer allow heavy trucks from Military (Avenue) to 23rd (Street)?” Zetterman asked. “Our recommendation is to wait 'til after the viaduct is opened.”
Following his comments, multiple representatives and business owners – as well as a local attorney – spoke out against the proposal to ban heavy trucks, stating that they and many other local, Fremont-headquartered businesses use the stretch of Broad Street daily and banning tractor trailer trucks on it would be financially harmful to their businesses.
During the discussion of the proposed ban, Vaughan said he understood business owner’s concerns, and asked Zetterman about how the city could set the section of road as a “local trucks only” route and somehow ban non-Fremont trucks from using the route.
Zetterman said doing something like limiting certain trucks is hard.
“The police department would need to work enforcing something like that,” he said of Vaughan’s suggestion. “That could be difficult. We would also need to come up with a definition of local trucks.”
On July 25, another group came to the council to complain about allowing trucks – this time being composed of residents of the many historic homes that line both sides of Broad Street from Military Avenue to 23rd Street. Those residents said that city leaders had promised residents many years ago that once the beltway opened, heavy trucks would be banned from their street.
Several speakers also noted how many homes are in the stretch of street, how many residents live there and that a new pedestrian crosswalk path is planned to cross Broad Street at 19th Street. And, the newly expanded and renovated Keene Memorial Library is also on that segment of Broad Street, and attracts children and families who at times walk to the facility.
Zetterman, who worked for the city of Fremont for several years before leaving to work in Omaha, and then returning to a job with Fremont in 2022, said he had no recollection of any assurances possibly made to residents about totally banning heavy trucks.
But, he said council members like Vaughan, Sookram and the mayor are very interested in getting more robust and fuller feedback from all stakeholders in the situation as well as doing as much research and analysis as possible before any decision is made.
And, for now, he noted, there are no changes to the city’s official truck route and the Broad Street corridor can be used by any heavy trucks or agricultural vehicles as needed through the start of winter at the least.