Highway 2 traffic

Eastbound traffic backs up on Nebraska 2 as opposing traffic gets the green light to turn left at the intersection with 27th Street during rush hour. 

A new interchange in Nebraska City and three expressway projects across the state are among $505 million in highway-related work planned for the next year, the state Department of Roads announced Tuesday.

The major projects include building a new U.S. 75/Nebraska 2 interchange at the site of an existing intersection south of Nebraska City and widening U.S. 75 from Bellevue to Plattsmouth, U.S. 30 from Schuyler to Rogers and a 9-mile portion of the Heartland Expressway south of Alliance.

Lincoln drivers can prepare for road work, too.

Crews will resurface Nebraska 2 from 10th Street to Old Cheney Road beginning in the spring, possibly early April, and likely continuing into the football season.

Most work will take place at night and on weekends, and the state will require all traffic lanes to stay open during the day on weekdays and on football Saturdays, said Curt Mueting, District 1 construction engineer for the Department of Roads.

East of town on Nebraska 2, shoulder resurfacing from 98th Street to Syracuse will mean daytime lane closures, Mueting said. That work is expected to begin in mid-2016.

Another big Lincoln project — reconstruction and resurfacing along South 14th Street and Warlick Boulevard from Nebraska 2 to U.S. 77 — is on the state's six-year plan and would follow the other work on Nebraska 2, possibly in 2018.

The state is working with the city to ensure the project doesn't conflict with the city's plans to redo the three-way intersection at Old Cheney Road, said Jim Knott, the state's roadway design manager.

Then there's the Lincoln South Beltway, the four-lane divided freeway to connect Nebraska 2 at 120th Street with U.S. 77 southwest of Lincoln.

Work on the $200 million project is still expected to begin no sooner than 2020 and should take five to seven years to complete.

The $505 million program released Tuesday reflects only the highway work scheduled to begin in the next year, through June 2016. An additional $334 million for county and city roads brings the total to $839 million.

That includes an anticipated $6.5 million boost once the state gas tax increases by 1.5 cents per gallon next year.

Lawmakers voted in April to raise the tax by 6 cents a gallon over four years, then overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto of the bill in May.

In addition to the state gas tax, Nebraska pays for its roads with federal fuel taxes, vehicle sales taxes and registration fees and the Build Nebraska Act, which diverts one quarter of 1 cent of the state's general fund sales tax revenue toward roads.

Some would like to see those options expand — especially if it pays for projects that haven't made the cut.

Among them: the long-sought widening of U.S. 275 from Norfolk to Fremont and U.S. 81 from York to Columbus. 

U.S. 275 will be part of the discussion — along with Lincoln's South and East beltways — when the Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee examines other options for financing roads as part of an interim study this summer.

Committee Chairman Jim Smith of Papillion has said lawmakers will look at whether toll roads are a possibility. 

Bonding needs to be part of the discussion as well, said Josh Moenning, executive director of 4 Lanes 4 Nebraska, a group of business leaders pushing for the U.S. 275 project.

Nebraska and Wyoming are the only two states that do not issue bonds for road construction, he said. 

Lawmakers rejected a bill in 2014 that would have allowed the Nebraska State Highway Commission to issue bonds for up to $200 million before June 2017. The bill, sponsored by then-Transportation Chairman Annette Dubas of Fullerton, fell three votes short of passage.

Pete Ricketts said during his campaign for governor that he opposed bond financing of highway construction. 

But Roads Director Kyle Schneweis, a former Kansas transportation official hired this year by Ricketts, was involved in a 10-year, $8.2 billion comprehensive highway program in Kansas known as T-Works, which used some bond financing.

"We need to talk about 21st-century ways to finance road projects, and that includes bonding," Moenning said.

A four-lane U.S. 275 has been envisioned as part of the state's expressway system for decades, but it's never been funded, he said.

"The state has an obligation to finish those projects."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7234 or zpluhacek@journalstar.com. On Twitter @zachamiLJS.

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Assistant city editor

Zach Pluhacek is an assistant city editor.

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