2016 landmark year for infrastructure
2016 was a landmark year for infrastructure investment in Nebraska. Concerned Nebraskans advocating on behalf of finishing the Nebraska Expressway System helped make it so. To honor that decades-old promise and position our state for new growth in this new year and beyond, the successes of 2016 should be viewed as a launching pad, not a finish line.
In April, the Transportation Innovation Act, which directs $450 million (over 17 years) to the expressway system and other infrastructure projects, was passed on a vote of 48-0 in the Nebraska Legislature and signed by Governor Pete Ricketts.
Over the summer, the Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) held a series of public input sessions on project prioritization. In September, NDOR announced eight new road construction priorities, including Hwy 275 (Norfolk to Omaha) and the Panhandle's Heartland Expressway, and 12 new design project priorities, including Hwy 81 (York to Columbus), Hwy 77 (Wahoo to Fremont), and Hwy 75 (Nebraska City to Murray). Lincoln's East Beltway and I-80 interchanges in Omaha and Sarpy County will also begin planning stages.
While it's encouraging that a new playbook for modernizing our state's infrastructure is in place after decades of executive-level neglect, the timeline for completion is slow. Besides Hwy 275, which is projected to begin expansion in 2019, new construction priorities won't see work until 2024. For the sake of growing our state and our local economies, we must press further.
Look at a map of Nebraska. The places growing are located on the Interstate or connected with four-lane roadways. The expressway system, created in 1988, was a promise to Nebraskans that their major communities would be connected to each other and to the Interstate System with safe, efficient four-lane highways by 2003. Nearly 15 years later, major projects remain on hold. The long stall hamstrings our entire state's growth potential. While discussions of tax structure and incentive packages are important, they are irrelevant without adequate infrastructure. Without four-lane access or the promise of modern roadways, many companies won't consider an area for investment or expansion.
For these reasons, 4 Lanes 4 Nebraska will continue its work as a statewide business and industry advocate for policy reform and modernized infrastructure systems. We will engage in new opportunities to improve project delivery, fight efforts to divert transportation funding, engage new lawmakers on the significance of infrastructure development, and explore options for new federal support for key Nebraska transportation corridors. We look forward to continuing work with the Ricketts administration and the Unicameral, who've taken a commendably open approach on creative policy solutions, to build 21st century infrastructure throughout the state.
Infrastructure modernization is economic development. The longer we wait to connect our communities, the more growth opportunities pass us by. In 2016 we brought new attention to the economic and public safety need for infrastructure investment in our state.
The collective voices of businesses, farmers, and concerned taxpayers from all corners of Nebraska yielded results and created new momentum. Let's keep building on it.
4 Lanes 4 Nebraska
-- Josh Moenning is executive director of 4 Lanes 4 Nebraska, a business and industry coalition advocating 21st century infrastructure systems in Nebraska.