Mayors Eager to See Highway 275 Project Finished

By 
Cole Bauer
Norfolk Daily News

Norfolk – The failure to complete the Highway 275 project is costing Northeast Nebraskans money and motorists their safety.

The Nebraska Expressway system was announced in 1988, and the original deadline for its completion was 2003, said Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning. Moenning was one of 21 area mayors who wrote a letter to the Legislature urging completion of the project.

The project’s goal is to connect the state’s larger cities and routes with higher traffic volume to the interstate system with continuous four-lane highways. But about one-third of the project remains unfinished, according to The Norfolk Daily News.

To Northeast Nebraskans, the important section is the incomplete stretch of Highway 275 between Norfolk and Scribner.

The completion of this section would increase growth, save residents money and improve safety for motorists, according to a 2015 study by 4 Lanes 4 Nebraska.

Progress is slow, though. There is no estimated timeline for the start or completion of many of the remaining sections, although one opens for bids in the spring.

“The clock has been ticking for 33 years,” Moenning said of the project. “The can has been kicked down the road so many times. It’s a disservice to the taxpayers.”

The project is nearly 20 years past its due date, with the original deadline being 2003. One-third of the project is undone, and there is no timeline for many of the remaining sections. This means it could be decades before the project is finished.

The next part of Highway 275 to be completed will be the section between Scribner and West Point, which opens for bids later in the spring, said Jeni Campana, acting communication public policy director at the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

“We’re glad to know the Scribner to West Point portion may come to bid this spring,” Moenning said. “We’ve been down this road.”

Construction was supposed to start on this section in 2018, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers required the NDOT to conduct an environmental study on the area, delaying work.

Work may go ahead now that the study is completed.

Ideally work would begin in the fall, but it’s still unknown how long it would take to finish, Campana said.

“I don’t want to speculate,” she said. “We don’t have set dates yet.”

Many of the other unfinished sections are now under design, Campana said, and the rest are in planning.

Moenning and the other mayors identified funding as the main reason behind the lack of progress on Highway 275 in their letter.

Nebraska could resolve this by issuing bonds to fund the project, they wrote.

“Cities must bond regularly to fund large infrastructure improvements. Many projects simply would not get done if we didn’t,” the mayors wrote. “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 not withstanding.”

Nebraska is one of only two states that don’t issue bonds to pay for construction, the mayors said. This is because Nebraska is a pay-as-you-go state, Campana said. The state works within its budget each year and does not issue bonds to pay for construction projects.

As construction costs rise, it becomes more and more difficult for Nebraska to pay for infrastructure work without some type of financing, though, Moenning said.

“Being pay as you go is an anomaly among states,” Moenning said. “The longer you delay, the more expensive work on major infrastructure costs.”

But Campana said such an approach has helped keep Nebraska financially sound.

“Bonding is not something we have considered in many years,” she said. “We’re in a really good place.”

The NDOT is able to maintain 10,000 miles of roads and 3,500 bridges in part because Nebraska doesn’t use bonds, Campana said.

But Moenning said Nebraska is doing more damage by not investing in infrastructure.

“This outright opposition to taking advantage of lower interest rates now is a pennywise/a-pound-foolish approach. We’re letting politics get in the way of practical solutions,” Moenning said. “Sometimes we get in our own way by not investing in the future.”

Moenning said also that Nebraska isn’t truly a pay-as-you-go state anyway.

“It’s not true anymore to say that we’re a strict pay-as-you-go state,” he said. “There should be no illusions anymore.”

 

This story first appeared in The Norfolk Daily News. It was distributed as a member exchange story by The Associated Press.

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