North-south travel is uphill battle

Monday, June 11, 2012

We can't argue with calls for widening U.S. Highway 83 into a four-lane or "super two" highway as part of the Nebraska Department of Roads' long-range plans.

McCook City Manager Jeff Hancock submitted the idea for the state's Long Range Transportation Plan. "It is imperative that Nebraska review its vision in context of the regional economy," he said. "Highway 83 is a gateway and potential major corridor between Canada and Mexico and should be strengthened."

It certainly would be nice to have a couple of extra lanes on busy travel weekends, when boats are being pulled to the lakes, when harvest crews are wending their way toward the next wheatfield, or bicyclists are traveling through en masse.

The extra concrete would have been especially welcome over the past year with load after load of big round bales of hay rolling through on their way to drought-ridden Texas and Oklahoma.

Four lanes wouldn't be hard to justify between McCook and North Platte, or connecting Interstates 70 and 80 or even 90, but expansion for the full-length of the nation's longest north-south highway, 1,885 miles, might be a harder sell.

Consider the case of the Heartland Expressway, which would connect Denver to Rapid City, South Dakota, via the Nebraska Panhandle.

It was first proposed in the late 1970s, and would take a couple of decades to complete, but someone will have to find half a billion dollars to fund it.

Details of the project, billed as the centerpiece of the Great Plains International Trade Corridor from Canada to Mexico, were presented Thursday at a Nebraska Department of Roads open house in Gering.

"The big part is finding what kind of benefit will we get out of it," Randy ElDorado, an engineer for the state roads department, told the Scottsbluff Star-Herald. "We've determined that the benefits outweigh the cost."

North and south has never been much of a priority in the flat water state, from the days of the fur traders on their way to the mountains, to the '49ers' and wagon trains, through the Lincoln Highway and Interstate 80.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't do what we can to enhance north-south travel, or that it won't become more and more important in the future.

But if a project connecting Denver and Rapid City has faced such an uphill battle, a project connecting less-populated areas is in for a long struggle.

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