Keeping Things Rolling: Stephen Osberg Leads Omaha Transportation Strategy  

Like a lot of travelers, Stephen Osberg’s journey to his current role with the Greater Omaha Chamber started at a coffee shop. Having dropped out of the engineering program at University of California, Berkeley, the then-political science major and would-be law student was working at Blue Line Coffee when, cleaning up one evening, he discovered a roadmap to his future.

“Someone left an urban planning journal, so I picked it up,” he said. “I ended up reading it cover to cover because I loved it. I didn’t even know it was a career option. I canceled my LSAT registration and signed up for the GRE and got ready to go to urban planning graduate school.”

What followed has been a robust professional decade for the Kearny native. After completing graduate school in 2012, Osberg worked for SRS Consulting before joining the City of Omaha’s planning department. There, he worked on long-range planning projects to help envision and manage the city’s growth.

Accelerating Connect Go

In 2018, he joined the chamber as director of transportation development, quickly expanding from only regional strategy development to focusing on the city’s core and how transportation and mobility issues help or hamper development.“The transportation strategy we got going is Connect Go,” he said. “The whole idea there is to reexamine our goals, moving beyond, ‘This street is congested, let’s widen it,’ to a model where we try to understand our bigger needs as a region. We wanted to do that through research, but also through public engagement.”

Under Osberg’s leadership, Connect Go drew from multiple workshops, focus groups, one-on-one interviews and several thousand responses to a community survey, all of which pointed out various issues and hurdles within affected neighborhoods.

“Through that, we landed on four broad goals for the transportation strategy: equitable access to opportunity, economic growth throughout the region, attracting and retaining talent and stewardship, or maintenance, of the transportation system,” he said. “With that as our motto, we went back out and reconfirmed what we had heard from the public and then translated that into transportation strategies.

“We had fewer specific projects and more broad goals and that led us to additional orbit lines for public transit, improved frequency of transit routes, broadening the regional model of transit and expanding the bike and sidewalk network, especially along elementary schools and along transit routes.”

Building Bridges

Osberg said another big payoff is how Connect Go formed a common touchpoint for other relevant transportation entities as they did their own strategic planning.

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“Our role, ultimately, is to be a convener and a catalyst,” he said. “On the catalyst side, you can look at the streetcar and how that project was languishing. We came in and we worked with our partners to develop a more robust funding plan to get the project over the finish line.

“We’ve also tried to set up partners to succeed in various kinds of projects, bringing partners together and making sure we are coming at things in a coordinated manner. We worked with a local foundation and Metro Transit to fund the K-12 transit program where students in those grades don’t have to pay to ride the bus anymore. That’s been a great success.

“We also helped the City of Omaha win a federal earmark for streetscape enhancements on 24th Street. We are out there really trying to support our partners and design projects and get funding to put them in place.”

Osberg, 38, graduated cum laude from University of Nebraska at Omaha with a degree in political science in 2007. He earned his advanced degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2012.