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Nebraska in 'enviable position' for transportation funding, roads director says
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Nebraska in 'enviable position' for transportation funding, roads director says

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Nebraska's highway system will have $16.6 billion in needs over the next 20 years, according to state transportation officials.

The inflation-adjusted figure didn't generate much sticker shock among a panel of lawmakers Monday — largely because the state is on pace to meet much of that need.

An estimated $500 million will be available for highways during 2017-18 fiscal year alone, Roads Director Kyle Schneweis told a legislative panel.

"That puts us in an enviable position here in Nebraska."

Neighboring states are being forced to make tough decisions, Schneweis said. For example, Kansas announced last month that it will postpone two dozen road projects in the wake of the state's budget shortfall.

In Nebraska, lawmakers have injected big bucks into funding new road construction. 

Recent moves to raise the gas tax, set aside a portion of state sales taxes and create other transportation funding changes are expected to cover $1.6 billion of the state's projected $2.9 billion in 20-year capital improvement needs.

The rest of the $16.6 billion forecast is for preservation and modernization along Nebraska's 10,000 miles of existing highway.

Also at play is President-elect Donald Trump's call for a $1 trillion federal infrastructure funding package.

If that plan materializes, Schneweis would like to see Nebraska's share used for new projects, he told members of the Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee in a joint hearing with the budget-building Appropriations Committee.

The meeting is required under state law to review the Roads Department's annual state highway needs assessment. It also included an update on implementation of the Transportation Innovation Act, which passed earlier this year.

Roads officials have already begun reviewing project applications for the county bridge match program created under that bill, and construction on some projects could begin as early as spring.

"(The program) has defied every government bureaucracy red tape cliché and is charging ahead at full speed ahead of schedule," Schneweis said in prepared remarks.

And the Roads Department has worked to improve its efficiency in other areas, which include finishing road preservation projects faster and contracting with UPS to deliver items previously hauled by state staff, Schneweis said.

"Our goal is to put every penny into the pavement that we possibly can."

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

On Twitter @zachami.

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