District 4 has three candidates running for the seat: incumbent, Vinny Palermo, Sarah Smolen, and Ben Cass. Today we’ll hear from Ben Cass, who responded to our questionnaire by the deadline.
What are Omaha’s most pressing transportation needs? If elected, how will you address these needs?
Ben Cass: “As a city, we’re far too reliant on personal vehicle ownership. We need to continue investing in public transit and creating dense, walkable parts of the city.”
Should the Planning and Public Works Departments have separate directors, or should they be combined into a single entity?
Ben Cass: “This is an issue that I’m open to hear more about. As a city, we need a structure that makes sense, but we also need people in place to make that structure work.”
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 Cass: “Long term, our ongoing street maintenance costs should be a normal part of our budget. As a city, we need to be very careful to not overwhelm ourselves with debt so that our taxes can go to more productive purposes than just paying interest.”
Which issue is of greater importance to our city moving forward: transportation accessibility or average commute time?
Ben Cass: “Transportation accessibility is vital to lifting up the city as a whole. While commute times should be kept reasonable, too much focus on them can encourage unsustainable sprawl.”
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 Cass: “We need to grow our public transit system with accessibility in mind. I’m also in favor of needs-based discounted or subsidized fares.”
How often do you or your family use active modes of transportation such as a Metro bus, bicycling, or walking?
Ben Cass: “Of course, I’m putting a lot of wear on my shoes during the campaign. Normally I like to take walks on the weekend.”
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 Cass: “Yes, especially here in District 4.”
Do you support Metro Transit converting to a Regional Transit Authority under Nebraska Law with an elected board of directors?
Ben Cass: “Yes”
Omaha recently hired a Vision Zero coordinator. What are your expectations of the role they will play in trying to eliminate traffic deaths in Omaha?
Ben Cass: “By using both data and community connections, I hope the role will allow us to quickly experiment and innovate as a city and find the best approaches to eliminating traffic deaths.”
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 Cass: “I still think it’s a good idea, but completing the project in the first six months of the next City Council term is probably unrealistic. I’ll definitely look into it though.”
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 Cass: “A proper light rail system connecting our neighborhood business districts, urban core, underdeveloped neighborhoods, and suburban centers in a highly connected network.”