City Council Candidate Questionnaires, D2

26 Feb

For part 2 of our series, we’ll hear from candidates running for Omaha City Council in District 2! The current representative, Ben Gray, has held the seat for the past 12 years. We’ll also hear from new candidates, Cornelius Williams and Steven Abraham.

Images: Ben Gray is on the left, in glasses and suit and tie. Top right is Cornelius Williams, outside with a muted green shirt and dark suit jacket, and below him, on the bottom right is Steven Abraham in a white shirt and blue tie with red background.

What are Omaha’s most pressing transportation needs? If elected, how will you address these needs?

Ben Gray, 12 year incumbent: “There are several pressing needs. Bus service does what it can within it’s budget but it’s still a problem getting people with limited resources to jobs outside of their community. Trails and bike lanes are just starting to come on line in the eastern part of the city. If elected I would continue working with Mode Shift Omaha as well as Metro to advance different modes of travel as well as continuing the work of bringing more business closer to people most in need.”

Cornelius Williams: “In my district the most pressing need are the condition of the roads and traffic flow”

Steven Abraham: “Omaha’s pressing transportation needs are: modernizing the actual vehicle options, establishing routes that benefit individuals working night shift, implementing a better fare system that could incorporate different currencies, and updated routes and transit stations. When elected I would work with organizations to improve transportation methods to keep Omaha moving.”

Should the Planning and Public Works Departments have separate directors, or should they be combined into a single entity?

Ben Gray: “There should be two separate directors. There are a number of functions within each department that would make it very challenging for one director to stay on top of all functions of each department.”

Cornelius Williams: “Separate departments with good communication and cooperations”

Steven Abraham: “Both departments should work together to improve infrastructure and transportation issues, the planning department really tackles more of the residential and land strategizing but has a transportation planning area. Public Works actually focuses on transportation needs. is there a benefit to consolidating these two departments under one director? possibly. but I would keep them separate until I have further information.”

Last year, Omaha approved $200M in bonds to close the funding gap for street maintenance for five years. Is this a good long-term solution for funding our street maintenance needs? If so, why, and if not, why not?

Ben Gray: “It is a tool for helping us get caught up a little but I don’t see it as a sustainable model. Among other things Congress needs to allocate more money to the Highway Trust Fund for cities and states. We also need to adjust the state gas tax allotment. We also must address urban sprawl if we are to properly get a handle on our street issues.”

Cornelius Williams: “I am one who would like to reduce bonds because they just put off raising funds now.”

Steven Abraham: “This could answer the call of many infrastructure issues and at the same time add an additional 35 dollars to properties of 100,000, which I’m not for raising property taxes but I understand the need. In District 2 I feel we have some of the oldest infrastructure in the city besides south Omaha, so I would make sure that older areas are addressed first.”

Which issue is of greater importance to our city moving forward: transportation accessibility or average commute time?

Ben Gray: “Transportation accessibility.”

Cornelius Williams: “They brake down to the same thing. Better accessibility means better commute time.”

Steven Abraham: “Transportation Accessibility.”

Much of our current transportation infrastructure excludes people who cannot drive for reasons of age, ability, or financial means. What will you do to make sure that Omaha accommodates the transportation needs (equitable access to employment, commerce and services) of all citizens?

Ben Gray: “Continue to work with Metro and MAPA to keep these issues in sharp focus with ongoing pressure to address these problems with sustainable solutions.”

Cornelius Williams: {left blank}

Steven Abraham: “Making sure transportation is more focused in the areas mentioned in the question. We’re talking about specialized populations and as a city councilman, I can advocate for that population because I have worked directly with them for the last 13 years.”

How often do you or your family use active modes of transportation such as a Metro bus, bicycling, or walking?

Ben Gray: “Walking at least three days a week. When weather permits riding my bike nearly every day.

Cornelius Williams: {left blank}

Steven Abraham: “My family typically drive to our destinations but we also enjoy walking and bicycling. I have took my older children on the Metro bus to show them how to use the system, just incase they needed to use the services. Growing up here in Omaha I personally used the bus system frequently.”

Do you support expanding the city’s recently-passed Transit Oriented Development (TOD) policy to additional corridors/neighborhoods, including allowing home owners to construct Accessory Dwelling Units on their property?

Ben Gray: “Yes.”

Cornelius Williams: {left blank}

Steven Abraham: “This could be beneficial in the city of Omaha. Other cities across the United States has been implementing this process to boost the amount of residential, business, and leisure spaces within walking distance of public transportation. This kind of goes back to the combining of the planning and public works department, because in order to make this a success in my district we would need to increase for-profit business to fit the perimeters of this type of model.”

Do you support Metro Transit converting to a Regional Transit Authority under Nebraska Law with an elected board of directors?

Ben Gray: “I have mixed feelings about that. As long as we don’t leave out those most in need in vulnerable zip codes and we can show how a regional system will benefit those who rely on the service I could support that.”

Cornelius Williams: {left blank}

Steven Abraham: “This could help address many of the issues/disparities identified in previous questions like individuals with low income, seniors, and people with disabilities. I would have to do more research but looks like it could be beneficial.”

Omaha just hired a Vision Zero coordinator. What are your expectations of the role they will play in trying to eliminate traffic deaths in Omaha?

Ben Gray: “Though I supported this position I doubt much change will happen in the short term.”

Cornelius Williams: {left blank}

Steven Abraham: “Identify areas with high traffic accidents, work with public works and the planning department to see what type of innovative construction ideas can be used to lower the numbers of accidents. Also identify where the most fatal car accident are and do something similar in those areas.”

Ten years ago, Omaha was promised a protected bike lane on Harney Street and it was never built. What will you do to ensure that project is completed in 2021?

Ben Gray: “I will be pushing Public Works to make it a priority in 2021.”

Cornelius Williams: {left blank}

Steven Abraham: “See why the project was never completed, if it was due to not simply wanting to finish I would do my research then either advocate for the completion of give a breakdown of why it wasn’t able to be completed, I would also look at alternatives solutions to help fulfill the promise of the citizens that felt it would be a good addition.”

Finally, if you could magically make one change to the transportation environment in Omaha, without consideration of cost or political consequence, what would it be?

Ben Gray: “I would eliminate as much of our carbon footprint as possible. We are literally killing our planet and the people who reside within it. Fossil fuels have to be reduced significantly.”

Cornelius Williams: “Moving away from using Fossil Fuel sources”

Steven Abraham: “Make sure that everyone has reliable clean fuel transportation to and from anywhere they needed to go through any type of weather.”

One Response to “City Council Candidate Questionnaires, D2”

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