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City addressing transportation and parking

Following interviews with local stakeholders and a public engagement survey in 2020, representatives from Denver engineering firm Kimley-Horn recently drafted several goals to address transportation and parking in Hastings.

Together with the community, the city is creating a strategic plan to guide citywide transportation and parking policy and investments.

The transportation and parking master plan will further define the city’s transportation vision and help refine the mobility recommendations in the city’s comprehensive development plan from 2009, Imagine Hastings. The transportation and parking master plan process focuses on creating a community-driven mobility vision that will provide the city with a decision-making framework and a coordinated strategy to implement actionable projects to address Hastings’ diverse transportation challenges, including safely and efficiently walking, biking and driving around the city.

Lisa Parnell-Rowe, development services director for the city of Hastings, said the plan will hinge on three goals:

  • Hastings wants a well-connected transportation system that promotes equitable and multimodal access for all users.

“What that’s really talking about is making our transportation network easy to navigate and connecting the various residents and visitors to various community destinations,” she said.

  • Hastings will further promote a strong sense of community through the transportation investments.

“When we’re talking about that we’re talking about aesthetically pleasing transportation projects; encouraging social interaction in areas that would be open space and intertwine with the transportation system as well as expanding on our walking and biking choices,” she said.

There was need seen in the city’s recent walkability study to improve sidewalks.

“We have a lot of aging sidewalks, especially in the downtown area,” Parnell-Rowe said.

  • Hastings would be prudent by implementing these transportation investments that are fiscally responsible and sustainable.

That includes using quality materials and design.

Lee Vrooman, city director of engineering, is working with Kimley-Horn to prioritize city road projects including previously scheduled ones as well as those listed in engagement mapping.

The plan also will address parking.

There was a question in the survey asking participants how they would describe downtown parking.

Parnell-Rowe said of the responses, 33% said somewhat positive and 29% said neutral.

Kimley-Horne will conduct a parking audit.

That might be delayed, however, because as Parnell-Rowe said, during a pandemic might not be the best time to assess the number of parking spaces in use.

She talked with Kimley-Horn about congestion and signaling on Burlington Avenue.

“We talked a lot about that in the focus groups and how there is a relationship that’s built between the state and the local entities to get things done,” she said.

The stretch of 42nd Street between U.S. Highway 281 and Baltimore Avenue reopened at the end of December 2020 following a paving project.

Parnell-Rowe said, according to the transportation study, the northwest area of Hastings seemed to be the most neglected when it came to having connectivity.

“It’s a good start,” she said of the 42nd Street project.

Russell found herself through 4-H

When Jaden Russell was 4 years old, her parents got divorced.

“Due to their divorce, I developed anger issues,” Jaden said. “I was unable to control my anger and would have meltdowns almost daily.”

That’s until she was in fourth grade and was introduced to 4-H, a program where she could learn more about and foster her love of horses.

“Shortly after joining 4-H, I had noticed something different about myself. I had felt a weight lift off my shoulders,” Jaden said.

Today Jaden is a very successful 17-year-old who is still a dedicated 4-H’er along with working at Big Dally’s Deli and attending Hastings High School.

Now, she adds the title of Hastings Tribune Outstanding Tribland 4-H’er for 2020.

“I’ve always had a love and passion for animals, working with crafts and everything that is in 4-H,” Jaden said from her home in Hastings recently.

She would go to see animals with her grandfather as a kid, but everything really changed when she joined 4-H after an introduction from Dave Berens, leader of the Rural Ranchers 4-H Club.

Rural Ranchers is a bit unique in that the club owns the animals and all of its members work together to care for them at barns located just north of the Adams County Fairgrounds in Hastings.

In the club, Jaden started out by first showing rabbits and slowly moved into sheep, poultry and eventually cattle.

“I love everything about it,” she said of working with animals. “They have these great personalities people don’t see. They’ve got just such loving, fun personalities.”

Her favorite animals are horses and poultry.

“You’re the poultry girl,” her mom Michele Burnham interjected. “She just asked me for a duck last week. She wants her own chickens so bad.”

Jaden said most people see poultry as just birds, but that they’re fun and underappreciated creatures.

“And it’s not like showing other animals where you just walk your animal out in the arena,” she said. “You actually have to really work on getting your speech perfected and be comfortable doing that speech in front of others.”

As an older member of the Rural Ranchers club, Jaden now has taken a lot of time to work with younger members. With the smaller animals like poultry or rabbits, the members showing those animals will sit around a big table to work with their animals or learn the information needed for their judging interviews.

“When you’re younger, you don’t know as much about the animal,” she said. “You’re just there to be around the animals.”

Several years ago at the fair, Jaden said, her mother was sitting next to a little girl who was worried she didn’t know what to say to the judges about her chicken. Even though she was very busy with her own animals, Jaden took the time to coach the girl through her speech.

“I think she got a purple ribbon on her speech, so I was really proud of her,” Jaden said.

A few months later, Jaden saw that same girl helping another 4-H’er with a craft project.

That’s one aspect of Rural Ranchers that Jaden and her mom both agree that a lot of people don’t understand. The club is seen visibly for all of its work with livestock; however, during the school year club members meet once a month to do crafts and other projects including everything from planting succulents to quilting.

Some of Jaden’s favorite projects over the years have been floriculture and photography.

“I’m really into the plants and growing them,” Jaden said.

“If you drive by our house in the summer, my whole front yard is full of planters,” Michele added. “And she’s got flower planters in the back full of more flowers.”

Jaden’s favorite flower is the lisianthus, which has large blooms in a variety of colors.

“They’re kind of a challenge,” she admitted. “They’re very seasonal, so if you don’t get them planted at the right time to line up with fair, there’s a good chance you won’t have pretty flowers to enter.”

And she often has her camera with her, taking photos of her flowers, her animals and beautiful Nebraska sunsets.

While she has another year of 4-H, Jaden already is sad to see it end.

With all she’s learned and the passions she’s cultivated, however, Jaden hopes her involvement with 4-H never ends.

Her plan is to attend the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis before transferring to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with the end goal of becoming an extension specialist.

“I just love being in 4-H,” she said. “I hate that when I turn 18, I’m just done with it. I want to help keep kids involved with it.”

Looking back at her 4-H career thus far, Jaden said the things she has appreciated the most aren’t the ribbons or the successes, but the relationships.

“It’s a big family. We’re just a really big family,” she said. “That’s the main thing I can say. We’re all super close. We’re not just there for 4-H. We’re there to help each other out with everything. We’re friends outside of 4-H. It’s one of the best things.”

Nebraska might eliminate virus restrictions this weekend
Nebraska could soon eliminate all of its virus-related restrictions on gatherings if the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 continues to decline even though few people in the state have been vaccinated for the coronavirus
  • Updated

OMAHA — Nebraska could soon eliminate all of its virus-related restrictions on gatherings if the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 continues to decline even though few people in the state have been vaccinated for the coronavirus.

State health officials said the restrictions could be lifted this weekend if virus patients continue to occupy fewer than 10% of the Nebraska’s hospital beds. As of Wednesday, about 8% of the state’s hospital beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients and the number of people hospitalized with the disease had declined to 343.

The state adjusts the rules, which are designed to preserve hospital capacity, when hospitalizations remain below a certain level for seven days on average. The number of people hospitalized with the virus in Nebraska has been steadily declining since the November peak of 987, although it is still higher than it was at the start of October, when 227 people were hospitalized.

The main restriction that could be lifted this weekend is the state’s 75% capacity limit on indoor gatherings. Guidelines recommending that seating at bars and restaurants be limited to groups of no more than eight people, that different families be seated six feet apart at churches and that customers wear masks at salons would also be eliminated.

Even though the state might lift its restrictions, its chief medical officer, Dr. Gary Anthone, emphasized that it is still important for Nebraskans to continue wearing masks and avoid crowded places while the state works to vaccinate more people. The state does not require masks, but more than a dozen of its cities do.

“We’re still in the early days of this vaccination effort and so it’s critical we continue to limit virus spread,” Anthone said. “Wearing a mask, washing hands, and staying home when you’re sick are the best tools to fight against COVID-19.”

The state has administered 153,231 of the 248,741 doses of the vaccine it has received and roughly 2% of the Nebraska’s population has received both required doses. Officials said Thursday that the state’s allocation of the vaccine for next week increased by nearly 4,000 doses, which will help the vaccination effort.

Officials said that by the end of this week, all 90,000 of Nebraska’s health care workers will have had the chance to get vaccinated, and more than 26,000 health care workers will have received their second doses.

Residents and staff at the state’s 455 long-term care facilities have also received their first vaccine doses.

In most parts of the state, health officials have moved on to the next phase of the vaccine campaign and started inoculating people age 65 or older. The state launched a website Thursday, https://vaccinate.ne.gov/, where Nebraskans can register to be notified when they are eligible to receive the vaccine.

Nebraska reported 662 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 12 more deaths on Wednesday, pushing its pandemic totals to 188,784 cases and 1,917 deaths.

The state has gone from having the fifth-highest rate of new virus cases in the nation in early December to ranking 36st Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska declined over the past two weeks from about 948 new cases per day on Jan. 13 to about 686 new cases per day as of Wednesday.

Biden opens 'Obamacare' window for uninsured as COVID rages
With the COVID-19 pandemic raging, uninsured, low-income Americans are getting a new chance to sign up for subsidized health care benefits
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered government health insurance markets to reopen for a special sign-up window, offering uninsured Americans a haven as the spread of COVID-19 remains dangerously high and vaccines aren’t yet widely available.

Biden signed an executive order directing the HealthCare.gov insurance markets to take new applications for subsidized benefits, something Donald Trump’s administration had refused to do. He also instructed his administration to consider reversing other Trump health care policies, including curbs on abortion counseling and the imposition of work requirements for low-income people getting Medicaid.

“There’s nothing new that we’re doing here other than restoring the Affordable Care Act and restoring Medicaid to the way it was before Trump became president,” Biden said as he signed the directives in the Oval Office. He declared he was reversing “my predecessor’s attack on women’s health.”

The actions were only the first steps by Biden, who has promised to build out former President Barack Obama’s health care law to achieve a goal of coverage for all. While Biden rejects the idea of a government-run system that Sen. Bernie Sanders has pushed for in his “Medicare for All” proposal, his more centrist approach will require congressional buy-in. But opposition to “Obamacare” runs deep among Republicans.

The most concrete short-term impact of Biden’s orders will come from reopening HealthCare.gov insurance markets as coverage has shrunk in the economic turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic. That’s an executive action and no legislation is required.

The new “special enrollment period” will begin Feb. 15 and run through May 15, the White House said. It will be coupled with a promotional campaign and a call for states that run their own insurance markets to match the federal sign-up opportunity.

The Biden administration has ample resources for marketing, said Karen Pollitz, a health insurance expert with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. The foundation estimates that the Trump administration left unspent about $1.2 billion in user fees collected from insurers to help pay for running the marketplaces.

“The reason it wasn’t spent is the Trump administration spent its time in office cutting services that support consumer enrollment,” Pollitz said. “All the while the user fee revenue was coming in, (but) they were not allowed to spend it on anything other than marketplace operations.”

Created under the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, the marketplaces offer taxpayer-subsidized coverage regardless of a person’s medical history or preexisting conditions, including COVID-19.

Biden also ordered the immediate reversal of a federal policy that bars taxpayer funding for international health care nonprofits that promote or provide abortions. Known as the Mexico City Policy, it can be switched on or off depending on whether Democrats or Republicans control the White House. Abortion rights supporters call it the “global gag rule.”

The new president’s signing of a growing stack of executive orders is bringing increasing criticism from Republicans and also from some of his allies, especially after Democrats lambasted Trump when he acted on his own. Biden’s team says he’s looking to Congress for major legislation but feels that certain actions are crucial in the meantime.

Some directives he issued Thursday could take months to carry out.

He instructed the Department of Health and Human Services to consider rescinding Trump regulations that bar federally funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions.

HHS will also reexamine a Trump administration policy that allows states to impose work requirements as a condition for low-income people to get Medicaid health insurance. Work requirements have been blocked by federal courts, which found that they led to thousands of people losing coverage and violated Medicaid’s legal charge to provide medical services. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the issue.

And Biden directed HHS to review Trump policies that could undermine protections for people with health problems, such as a rule that facilitated the sale of short-term health insurance plans that don’t have to cover preexisting medical conditions.

Such changes cannot happen overnight. Rescinding a federal regulation requires a new regulation, which has to follow an established legal process that involves considering different sides of an issue.

Former Trump health policy adviser Brian Blase said the Biden administration has to take care it doesn’t throw out some policies intended to help solidly middle-class people who don’t qualify for financial assistance under Obama’s law.

“Obamacare plans are generally only attractive to people who receive large subsidies to buy them,” said Blase. He cited a Trump policy that allows employers to provide tax-free money for workers to buy individual plans.

The abortion-related actions brought Biden immediate praise from women’s rights groups, as well as condemnation from social and religious conservatives. Under President Trump, abortion opponents had free rein to try to rewrite federal policy, but now the political pendulum has swung back. Trump’s abortion counseling restrictions led Planned Parenthood affiliates to leave the federal family planning program.

Biden campaigned on repealing longstanding federal prohibitions against taxpayer funding for most abortions, but that was not part of Thursday’s orders. A change of that magnitude to a group of laws known as the Hyde Amendment would require congressional approval.

Biden’s nominee for health secretary, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, has not yet been confirmed by the Senate, but the White House said that will not stop health agencies from immediately going to work on the president’s directives.

The idea of reopening Obamacare’s health insurance markets in the pandemic has had broad support from consumer, medical, and business organizations. The main insurer trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, applauded Biden’s move.

As the number of uninsured Americans grew because of job losses in the pandemic, the Trump administration resisted calls to reopen HealthCare.gov. Failure to repeal and replace Obamacare was one of the former president’s most bitter disappointments. His administration continued trying to find ways to limit the program or unravel it entirely. A Supreme Court decision on Trump’s final legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act is expected this year.

Experts agree that number of uninsured people has risen because of layoffs in the coronavirus economy, but authoritative estimates await government studies due later this year. While some estimates cite 5 million to 10 million newly uninsured people, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says its analysis suggests a smaller number.

Nonetheless, the CBO projects that nearly 32 million Americans are uninsured and of those, about 2 in 3 are eligible for some kind of subsidized coverage.

The Obama-era health care law covers more than 23 million people through a mix of subsidized private insurance sold in all states, and expanded Medicaid adopted by 38 states.