A record investment – $600 million – for Nebraska’s roads next fiscal year represents the culmination of years of the state’s sound approach to maintaining and improving its most critical shared infrastructure.
Roads, highways and bridges aren’t cheap to keep up. They’re even more expensive to replace and rebuild. But Nebraska’s consistent dedication to adequately devoting resources to this expensive but imperative task – without tolls, no less – continues to pay dividends.
In December 2016, Nebraska Department of Transportation Director Kyle Schneweis told lawmakers Nebraska needed roughly $16.6 billion to perform all the fixes needed on its network of 10,000 miles of highway and 3,500 bridges. Despite the jaw-dropping figure, though, he noted that Nebraska was on pace to raise most of that money through existing means.
This decade alone, Nebraska has seen a flurry of programs that have increased funding and expedited the construction for the state’s roads and bridges.
During her tenure as a state senator, current U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer rallied the Legislature behind her Build Nebraska Act. (She’s continued to be a leading advocate for transportation and roads on Capitol Hill, too.) The measure, which passed in 2011, cordoned off a quarter-cent of the state’s 5.5 percent sales tax to be used for roads repairs and improvements.
After its passage, the Journal Star editorial board lauded it as the signature achievement of the legislative session. Seven years later, blue signs still bookend Nebraska roadwork sites, denoting the projects that were funded through this means.
In 2014, senators overrode a gubernatorial veto to increase Nebraska’s gas tax by six cents over four years. The hike boosted funding for road repairs and becomes fully phased in next year, when it will produce an estimated $25 million annually for the state and $51 million for cities and counties.
Two years later, Gov. Pete Ricketts championed his three-pronged Transportation Innovation Act. Shortly after it was signed into law, he announced an infusion of some $300 million into Nebraska’s long-awaited network of four-lane expressways from border to border and $40 million in matching funds for county bridges.
Combined, these measures have helped give Nebraska an enviable web of roads. With the state’s sheer amount of land area, the need for good transportation to power its economy and safely move its people could be strained if there weren’t adequate roads in areas both densely and sparsely populated.
Nebraska is in the thick of roadwork season, so praising the foresight behind construction projects that have frustrated drivers from Sioux County to South Sioux City may not be popular. But the record investment for 2019 means even more infrastructure improvements are on the way – and the orange cones and barricades are indicative of the state’s success in planning ahead.