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Infrastructure bill pours $2.5 billion into Nebraska roads and bridges

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Roads and highways form the largest slice of the massive federal infrastructure program funding that will be headed to Nebraska, but how the state's $2.5 billion allocation for roads and bridges will be targeted is yet to be determined.

Sen. John Stinner of Gering, chairman of the Legislature's Appropriations Committee, says those recommendations will be made by the Department of Transportation in allocating the new funds to specific road and bridge projects and by the Public Service Commission in identifying areas for federally funded expansion of rural broadband service.

"The Legislature will have oversight on compliance issues," he said.

Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning says the infrastructure funding surge should be directed to completion of the long-delayed expressway system that was launched more than three decades ago to connect every community larger than 15,000 people with the interstate highway system.

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"Finishing the expressway system once and for all, thereby fulfilling a promise made to Nebraskans in 1988, should be the state's top infrastructure priority," Moenning said.

"Doing so reaches far beyond infrastructure modernization," he said. "It's an economic development and public safety legacy project that will benefit generations of Nebraskans to come."

Western Nebraska interests have focused on accelerated completion of the Heartland Expressway, which extends through Alliance and Scottsbluff on its path from Rapid City, South Dakota, to Denver.

The huge federal infrastructure funding package will be accompanied by a billion-dollar burst of federal pandemic recovery funding that will come to the state in two surges, beginning with a $520 million allotment.

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Gov. Pete Ricketts will make his recommendations for distribution of that money to the Appropriations Committee, which in turn will submit a bill to the floor of the Legislature reflecting its own determinations.

"We'll get that money to where it does the most good," Stinner said. "The Legislature has the last word."

Stinner said he would "like to see equitable distribution across the state."

"It's going to be a busy session," he said.

"We'll be out of session before we get the second tranche" of pandemic recovery funding, he said, "so we may not allocate all of it" right away.

Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers of Lincoln has proposed that a chunk of that funding should be used to develop flood control, recreation, tourism, economic development and water sustainability at designated sites throughout the state.

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That recommendation will be forthcoming from the Legislature's so-called STAR WARS study committee, and it might include proposed development of a large new reservoir between Lincoln and Omaha.

Funding to help spur shovel-ready construction projects, statewide workforce development investments and a host of educational investments are also on the list of possibilities.

Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln, a member of the Appropriations Committee, has suggested that "this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" and has challenged state senators to "think big."

The Nebraska Department of Transportation is "currently assessing the (infrastructure) legislation to understand its impact on future investment in Nebraska's infrastructure," according to a statement from the governor's office.

Sen. Deb Fischer, one of two members of Nebraska's all-Republican congressional delegation who voted for the bill, has welcomed the additional federal funding for roads, bridges, water infrastructure, airports and rural broadband service as "long-awaited investments to rebuild and develop our nation's core infrastructure."

Rep. Don Bacon, who represents metropolitan Omaha's 2nd District, provided the other Republican vote, suggesting that the bill was supported by 70% of the people in his district and arguing that the increased investment "makes our nation stronger and more competitive for years to come."

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A recent detailed analysis of the infrastructure bill by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry tracked these allotments for Nebraska: 

* $2.2 billion for highways.

* $225 million to replace and repair bridges, 9% of which are ranked in "poor condition."

* $100 million to increase access to high-speed internet service, which an estimated 13% of Nebraskans lack today.

* $358 million to improve water infrastructure.

* $111 million to invest in Nebraska's eight major airports.

* $16.8 million for improved fire resiliency.

* $12.7 million to protect against cyber attacks.

* $186 million to improve public transportation.

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The bill contains Fischer's bipartisan amendment that would create a publicly accessible online mapping tool for viewing the progress of federal broadband deployment projects.

"This will avoid duplication, maximize federal funding dollars and help connect as many households as possible," she said. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or

On Twitter @LJSdon


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