The North Bend Eagle

 

Mayors urge Legislature to finish expressway

by Nathan Arneal
Published 12/23/20

Twenty-one Nebraska mayors and village board chairmen signed an open letter to state legislators asking the senators to finish construction of the Nebraska Expressway System.

The plan, adopted in 1988, included 600 miles of four-lane expressways around the state. Since then, 433 miles of the project have been completed, leaving 167 miles to go.

Among the unfinished sections of expressway are Highway 30 between Rogers and Fremont around North Bend, Highway 275 from Scribner to Norfolk and Highway 77 from Fremont to Wahoo.

Among the 21 signees to the letter are North Bend mayor Rod Scott and city heads of Columbus, Schuyler, Rogers, Fremont, Scribner and Hooper.

The letter calls Nebraska’s highway infrastructure “outdated, underdeveloped and dangerous.” The mayors go on to say “The inaction and negligence is hurting our communities. It’s costing Nebraskan’s lives and limiting communities’ ability to help grow our state.”

The Schuyler to North Bend section of the Highway 30 expressway is scheduled to be completed sometime next spring or summer. The section from North Bend to Fremont will be completed “in phases based on availability of funding” according to a statement by NDoT District 2 Engineer Tim Weander in October.

The text of the letter, dated Dec. 16, follows:

Dear Senator:

Thank you for your willingness to serve the people of your district and the State of Nebraska.

As mayors, we are problem-solvers. Serving the front lines of government, we have no other choice. We know you play a similar role as legislators, finding policy solutions to stubbornly persistent problems.

We’re asking for your help and partnership in solving a problem that has become an undue burden on our communities: Nebraska’s highway infrastructure is outdated, underdeveloped, and dangerous. To underscore the point, do you know there’s just one state in the Lower 48 with only one Interstate segment and no continuous north-south four-lane corridor? It’s Nebraska.

Part of the solution to modernizing our infrastructure is finishing the work laid out in a plan enacted by the Legislature decades ago. The Nebraska Expressway System, adopted in 1988, was designed to connect Nebraska’s major cities to one another and the Interstate System with four-lane highways. It was a bold, visionary plan that called for better connections between our rural and urban places. The only problem is it never got done (see enclosed map). Of the 600 miles of four-lane highways promised, nearly one-third are unfinished more than three decades later. The result is more motorists are being killed every year on dangerously crowded two-lane highways and communities’ economic growth opportunities are significantly limited.

We ask that solving this problem - finishing the Nebraska Expressway System - be a priority for you this legislative session. Now is the right time. Our local economies need the jolt of infrastructure spending having suffered the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic; there is likely to be a new focus at the federal level on American infrastructure reinvestment, which may create opportunities to leverage federal resources, and interest rates are at all-time lows.

Which leads to another point worth noting. Nebraska is one of only two states that does not issue bonds to finance highway construction. Why not? Cities must bond regularly to fund large infrastructure improvements. Many projects simply would not get done if we didn’t. Sadly, that is what’s happened with the highways the State promised to expand under the Expressway System. The money wasn’t stockpiled so the work simply did not get done, promises notwithstanding. This is a classic “penny wise, pound foolish” scenario, given the opportunity cost of lost economic development and the immense cost inflation of delayed infrastructure construction.

The inaction and negligence is hurting our communities. It’s costing Nebraskans’ lives and limiting communities’ ability to help grow our state. Become the Legislature that finds a way to solve the problem and puts us on the road to infrastructure modernization that benefits both our rural and urban communities.

We need your help.

 

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