Diverging diamond interchange

Traffic headed north on Northwest 48th Street makes its way back to the right side of the road while navigating the state's first diverging diamond interchange on Interstate 80.

ERIC GREGORY, Journal Star

Nebraska endured a tough road for its most recent increase in the gas tax, back in 2015.

Prominent anti-tax organizations argued against it. Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed it before the Legislature voted to override it.

But that bumpy path has paid great dividends for the state. An Associated Press report earlier this week noted that both Nebraska and Iowa, which also increased its own gas tax that same year, have seen significant investment in repairing deficient roads and bridges at a time when such work has slowed elsewhere in the United States.

One of the reasons a gas tax is an effective means of raising revenue for infrastructure repairs is because of its equity. Those who use the roads pay the tax when they fuel up; each gallon of gas purchased diverts a few cents to help maintain and fix Nebraska’s roads and bridges.

Equally as important is that the burden of a higher gas tax isn’t borne entirely by Nebraskans. Everyone who fuels up in the state contributes their share. Every car, truck and semi traveling across Nebraska’s 455 miles of Interstate 80 – representing perhaps the country’s most important east-west thoroughfare – help fund the state’s roadwork, regardless of their license plate.

Those pennies come from across the American continent – and they add up quickly.

Last December, Kyle Schneweis, director of what was then called Nebraska’s Department of Roads, told a legislative panel that Nebraska’s highway system would require an estimated $16.6 billion in needs. But the state is on pace to raise most of that figure needed for improvements on its roughly 10,000-mile network of existing highways.

The need to repair roads and bridges is great in this – and every – state. With its large geographic area and countless rivers and streams stretching from border to border, Nebraska has larger-than-average numbers of both roads and bridges – and is dependent on this expansive infrastructure for transportation and commerce.

Yet nearly a quarter of the state’s bridges were deemed structurally deficient or functionally obsolete by the Federal Highway Administration in 2013. Furthermore, 59 percent of its roads were rated then to be in either poor or mediocre condition by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

However, a 2016 report by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association indicates Nebraska is making progress. The organization noted the number of deficient and obsolete bridges has declined to 21.6 percent in just three years. Still, Nebraska ranks fifth in the total number and sixth in percentage of deficient bridges.

Nebraska has many miles yet to go. But the early results indicate the state’s gas tax increase, which doesn’t fully take effect until 2019, has been successful at its intended purpose of generating more revenue to improve infrastructure statewide.

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