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This past Friday, Governor Ricketts, United States Senator Deb Fischer, former Governor Kay Orr, and State Department (NDOR) of Roads Director Kyle Schneweis were in North Platte to announce 8 planned major road construction projects and 12 future design projects that NDOR has prioritized for the next 10 years. The projects will be financed by funding from the Build Nebraska Act (BNA) and Transportation Innovation Act (TIA).
Turning the 60 mile stretch of Hwy 83 between North Platte and McCook into a Super-2 road system is one of the approved projects. Hwy 83 is a major north south transportation artery from Canada to Mexico; the hills, valleys, farm equipment traffic, and wildlife over the 60 mile stretch between North Platte and McCook is a bottleneck that commercial freight and individual travelers have avoided, especially night travelers. The highway is a natural connection for freight movement between I-80 in Nebraska and I-70 in Kansas.
I have long been an advocate for the benefits to traffic flow and especially the cost savings of the Super-2 concept of adding passing lanes every 3 to 5 miles. I have seen it work well on Hwy 50 and 56 in southern Kansas and if you have taken Hwy 36 to Estes Park in Colorado, you have benefited from the Super 2 concept. When I heard Governor Ricketts had hired Mr. Schneweis away from the Kansas Department of Roads, my first thought was: Why not build Super-2s in Nebraska as effectively as Kansas has done? A constructive discussion ensued with the new director, who needed no convincing; he was already an advocate of the concept. The cost savings and safety aspects of the Super-2 concept was also discussed in debate during the passage of the Transportation Innovation Act (LB960) last year (you can see the floor debate transcripts HERE, my statement starts on page 194). Local regional efforts in the past advocated a four-lane highway, the cost benefit analysis of 4-lane was highly unlikely to ever make NDOR’s top engineering and economic benefit priority list. The road needs of a growing eastern Nebraska would continue to trump our rural road wants. Upgrading Hwy 83 to a Super-2 made the $60 million project financially feasible and put us in the winner’s circle. The point I am making is that success does not happen in a vacuum; with input, support, and compromise from local citizens, businesses, government entities, and elected officials this project is going to be completed.
To refresh your memory:
The Build Nebraska Act (BNA) was created by LB84 in 2011. It was a bill presented by then State Senator Fischer that allocated ¼ cent of sales tax dollars to completing 4-lane express-ways connecting larger communities to each other and to the I-80 interstate system. Since the BNA’s existence, so far in western Nebraska only a stretch of Hwy 385 south of Alliance to Angora has been financed by the BNA. Our Hwy 83 project along with a $60 million, 18 mile, 4-lane project on Hwy 26 in the panhandle between Minatare and Bridgeport will bring tax dollars back to western Nebraska.
The Transportation Innovation Act–LB960 (TIA) was passed this last year. We supported the legislation after the original language of the bill requesting a $150 million transfer from the reserve fund was downgraded to $50 million and future funding was guaranteed by mandating that 2 cents of the prior year’s fuel tax increase (LB610) would be allocated to the fund, verses continued transfers of reserve funds. As a side-note, hopefully with the downturn of the economy, the Legislature’s recent bad habit of spending reserve funds for special projects will cease. It’s called a RESERVE fund for a reason. Through TIA funding NDOR has added North Platte’s I-80 Newberry Interchange to US 30 as one of the 12 Design Study Projects for future construction consideration. TIA also directs NDOR to use a portion of the funds to create a cost share program for replacement of rural county bridges. The Platte River Bridge north of Sutherland would be a good example of a project that would qualify for this new funding source.