Snowbird trail would offer benefits beyond transportation

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Seventy of Nebraska's counties declined in population from 2000-2005, and most of them had a common trait: They weren't along Interstate 80.

But what are the rural counties to do, build their own interstate?

What once seemed like an outlandish idea is gaining support in the Legislature.

Stumping before the Grand Island Rotary on Tuesday, State Sen. Joel Johnson of Kearney said the proposed Snowbird Trail, running from South Sioux City through Norfolk, Columbus, Grand Island, Hastings and McCook, could shave significant miles off a trip from places like Minneapolis and Milwaukee to Colorado Springs.

As reported by The Grand Island Independent, the project, called the Highway 35 plan before being dubbed with its current, more memorable tag, would create an attractive route for people who like to travel to Colorado to ski or to the Upper Midwest to fish.

Besides the obvious benefits, there are factors that need to be considered in the creation of a new route:

For one, the chance for economic development shouldn't be underrated. Unless the economy improves and if the population continues to decline, Nebraska has a good chance of losing a congressional seat after the 2020 census. That's a prospect that can have a negative impact far beyond transportation issues.

For another, Johnson pointed out that the new route could shave miles, reduce fuel expenditures and help improve profitability for Nebraska's major industry, agriculture in the form of beef and pork production, grain and ethanol.

Although he suggested raising the state gas tax by 2 cents, the debate over that issue should take the potential fuel savings into account.

Then, there's the fact that a major highway construction project would naturally boost economic activity during the time of construction.

And, having a major interstate run through McCook could have the spinoff benefit of increasing traffic on U.S. Highway 83 to the point that four lanes would be justified, at least from North Platte south to McCook and perhaps points beyond.

It's tempting for those of us in Greater Nebraska to complain about transportation resources going to more heavily-populated areas in the east.

How much better to get behind a project that could make things better for our region of the state.

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