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Road flooding

Flooding in March washed away part of a road south of Genoa.

Nebraska Department of Transportation Director Kyle Schneweis told the Legislature's Revenue Committee on Wednesday that he's hopeful Nebraska's flood-ravaged roads system will be fully restored "in a matter of months, if not weeks."

During the last few days, he said, there have been "rumors about delayed projects, but none of those decisions have been made."

Some 231 miles remained closed at the beginning of the day, a figure far below the more than 2,000 miles that were closed at a time during the past two weeks, Schneweis said.

"That's a staggering number," he said.

"A bunch of miles are still under water," he said, and a number of bridges need to be replaced or repaired. 

"Give me some time," he said. "This is more of a cash flow problem than a total cash problem," Schneweis said, with federal funding assistance already requested or on its way.

Schneweis spoke to the committee in opposition to a bill (LB97), proposed by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, that would give the state authority to issue up to $200 million in bonds to help fund highway construction.

"There is no better time than right now to issue bonds," Wayne said. "We need more tools in the toolbox."

Wayne introduced the legislation in January to provide an additional funding tool to speed up highway construction while also supplying the kind of new funding that could be used for a project that would benefit North Omaha by building a new bridge connection to Iowa. 

"That's a bridge that needs to happen," Wayne said. 

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"I see the need" for that project, Schneweis said. "I see the value of it. We need to be thinking about this project."

But not with bonded indebtedness, he said.

"Taking on debt is counter to Nebraska's long history of pay-as-you-go in transportation," Schneweis said. "Flexibility is super-important."

In neighboring Kansas, its roads program begins with paying $200 million in debt service every year, he said.

"I can't imagine we would be getting much done here now with that kind of debt obligation," he said.  

Nebraska already has authority to issue $50 million in highway bonds, Schneweis noted, "but we're not planning to use it."

The Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce filed letters with the committee supporting the bill.

Before the hearing, the Department of Transportation announced that emergency repair of flood-damaged roadways and bridges in northeast Nebraska is about to begin.

Included will be repairs on U.S. 30 and Nebraska 81, Nebraska 12 and Nebraska 14.

Nebraska 81 remains open, but is closed to heavy truck and semi traffic south of Columbus while evaluation and repairs are underway.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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