North-south interstate link hard sell in Lincoln

Friday, April 17, 2009

A proposed north-south expressway linking I-80 to I-70 would be an economic development boon for western Nebraska and good for the whole state, said State Sen. Mark Christensen.

But he's hit a roadblock in convincing other lawmakers of the need for a project study, Christensen said Thursday at the McCook Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative conference call .

Christensen's LB 648 would provide a 20 percent match in state funds for a corridor study on a four-lane expressway along U.S. Highway 83, connecting I-80 to I-70, when federal funds become available.

The study would cost about $1 million with a state match of $200,000 and would evaluate the feasibility of the expressway, he said.

The need for the expressway is crucial, Christensen said, as it would draw people and businesses to an area facing rapid decline. And what benefits western Nebraska would benefit the whole state.

The continued drop in population could even lead to a loss of a congressional seat in 2020, he said.

Christensen cited population declines in the western part of the state from 2000 to 2008, with Red Willow County decreasing by 6.5 percent, Hitchcock County by 8.9 percent and Dundy County, 12.7 percent.

Christensen said the chairman of the Transportation Committee, Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine, opposes the bill. Other senators he's talked with agree it would be beneficial but are reluctant to support it based on fiscal concerns and other highways slated for funding.

"I'd love to see the study get done," Christensen said and adding that he would continue to pursue getting LB 648 attached to another bill. But whether that can be done or not depends upon agreement from other state senators.

"The problem is getting people convinced that it's imperative not just to western Nebraska but to the whole state," Christensen said.

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