Numbers up with PenAir flights tops city government news

Barely one month after its takeover of commuter flights from Kearney to Denver, PenAir’s boardings in Kearney were outstripping those of Great Lakes Aviation, the airline that PenAir replaced.

After taking over the Kearney-to-Denver flights on Nov. 1, PenAir reported 540 enplanements for November, the most boardings by paying passengers at Kearney Regional Airport in 27 months.

Switching airlines was voted the top city government story of 2017 by the Kearney Hub’s newsroom staff.

The change to PenAir was necessary, city officials and business leaders said, because inconsistent service by Great Lakes had eroded confidence in Kearney air service.

After city officials conducted an extensive search to replace Great Lakes, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded PenAir of Anchorage, Alaska, the two-year Essential Air Service contract to provide two flights per day of federally subsidized air service from Kearney to Denver International Airport.

PenAir was one of seven airlines that bid to provide air service to Kearney, Scottsbluff and North Platte.

Ball field complex

This spring, the city will open a $7.5 million baseball and softball complex. Patriot Park, as the facility will be called, sits just south of the new $121 million Central Nebraska Veterans’ Home that’s scheduled to open in 2018 near Kearney Regional Airport.

Kearney voters approved a special 1 percent restaurant tax to pay for the Patriot Park complex, which is designed to relieve the stress for practice and game time on the current athletic fields in the city.

Legislative campaign

Kearney businessman John Lowe was elected to replace term-limited state Sen. Galen Hadley and represent Kearney in the Nebraska Legislature after a campaign that saw lots of money and outside influence brought to bear. Lowe was among a handful of candidates for the Legislature who gained the endorsement and financial backing of Gov. Pete Rickets. In addition, Americans for Prosperity and Trees of Liberty provided several mailings in support of Lowe that attacked his opponent, Kearney City Council member Bob Lammers, as a tax-and-spend politician.

After losing the race, Lammers said he was so disappointed in the tone of the campaign that he would leave politics when his council term expires in two years.

Streets, bridges

After years of lobbying, design and construction, the Kearney East Expressway finally opened in November and provided Interstate 80 travelers easy access to The Archway and a bypass around Kearney to the junction of Highways 10 and 40 at Glenwood Corner north of the city.

Planners first envisioned the expressway in 1985, and The Archway opened in 2000 with the hope that an exit on I-80 would soon be built, but it required years of lobbying before money became available to build the first phases of the $60 million expressway, including the exit, an overpass above the Union Pacific mainline and U.S. Highway 30, and a pair of roundabouts.

The year also saw the com- pletion of resurfacing on the Highway 44 bridge over the Platte River south of Kearney and completion of paving on Central Avenue in the Buffalo County Courthouse neighborhood.

Archway

The Archway lost the support of the Buffalo County Board of Commissioners in 2016, but continues to operate with subsidies from the Kearney Area Visitors Bureau and the city. The county board voted 4-3 on March 22 to discontinue its $75,000 per year assistance to the attraction. With $75,000 and $150,000 annually from the city and Visitors Bureau, The Archway now is breaking even, but relies on contributions from local donors for deferred maintenance and improvements.

Barely three years ago, a group of community supporters negotiated the purchase of The Archway from its shareholders for $150,000.