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Highway 34

U.S. 34 widens to add a turn lane in Eagle.

As debate accelerated regarding the merits of increasing Nebraska’s interstate speed limit to 80 mph, the arguably more important provisions of the bill sat parked away from the spotlight.

The measure required a state study to determine if Nebraska’s interstate infrastructure could adequately handle 80 mph interstate speeds, a key means of why the Journal Star editorial board favored the original legislation. To secure the bill’s advancement, however, an amendment axed its most buzzworthy and controversial piece.

Even with that provision gone, though, another element we support lives on – improved transit on rural state highways.

The compromise struck by senators creates a new classification for these roads called “super-two” highways. These will be differentiated from standard state highways by their intermittent passing lanes in both directions, which increase the ability of motorists to pass slow-moving vehicles.

Few of these exist in Nebraska, with short stretches of Nebraska 92 between Wahoo and David City and Nebraska 50 near Weeping Water representing potential models to expand upon. But neighboring states, including Iowa, use passing lanes extensively on major, non-interstate highways.

Nebraska drivers depend on the state’s network of highways to attend work and school. Those same routes move large numbers of agricultural implements, 18-wheelers and other large trucks, vehicles that power the state’s economy – but tend to travel far more slowly than a passenger car.

Opening up major routes with these sporadic passing lanes would help provide the rest of Nebraska with the transportation advantages enjoyed by those with interstate access.

Nebraska contains nearly 500 miles of interstate highways – but that pales in comparison to its roughly 10,000 miles of other highways.

Of the 16 Nebraska cities with more than 10,000 residents, six have no direct interstate access in their counties. Only five of the 15 communities with populations between 5,000 and 10,000 sit along Interstate 80. The rest of the state – including the vast majority of its land area – must rely almost exclusively on two-lane highways for transit, travel and commerce.

This bill still streamlines the ability of local authorities and the state to increase the speed limit on a variety of state highways.

These highways can vary in speed, seemingly without rhyme or reason to drivers, because state law currently requires a study to increase highway speeds from 60 mph to 65 mph. As Nebraska Department of Transportation Director Kyle Schneweis said recently on the Journal Star’s Fresh Pressed podcast, this helps promote more uniformity on speed limits.

So, Nebraska drivers may soon get their chance to speed up – just not on I-80. But the remainder of the bill offers significant upgrades to far more miles of highways in the state.

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