Highway Bypass: Good Or Bad For Small Communities?

It's a tale of two towns, one booming while the other is struggling. All determined by whether a highway goes through town. Twenty-three years ago, Highway 275 was targeted for "freeway status," which would make it a four-lane highway from Omaha to Norfolk. That project is now partially completed, but has stalled right in the middle.

Some question whether the improved roadway is good for small towns.

Joyce Tienken grew up in Scribner, Nebraska.

"We had a ton of business from the Sturgis motorcycles," she said.

And the work hasn't slacked off at the Shell station she works at.

"We have so much traffic and a lot of business and that is good for a small town to have business coming through their rural communities," she said.

That's because Highway 275 goes right through town.

Joyce likes it that way.

"It's just wonderful to have a business that is located on 275," she said.

Seven miles to the east at Hooper, Dale Maurer is also busy at work.

But most of his customers at the Iron Horse Restaurant and Chaser's Lounge are local.

He and other business owners miss out on potential customers driving through the area.

That's because the highway now goes around Hooper.

Traffic flow through town is virtually non-existent.

"I think the by-pass has hurt us the town because we're down in the bottom here," Maurer said. "People drive right on by because in this day and age its so fast paced."

The expressway reverts back to a two-lane highway between Hooper and Scribner.

And there are no plans to finish this town-hopping highway to Norfolk.

A lack of money and traffic counts being the main reasons.

So while businesses in Hooper close, those in Scribner thrive.

Scribner is even re-developing its downtown area

But would this be done if the highway skirted Scribner as originally planned?

"The outcome might be a little bit different," Scribner Economic Development Director Deb Eggleston said. "We would be doing it but the opportunities might change a little bit."

New signage on the highway will point the way to downtown Scribner, that's just a block off the beaten path.

Meanwhile, Dale Maurer is also hoping travelers will go the extra mile off of the new and improved Highway 275 to downtown Hooper.

"We're looking at a couple of farmers putting up signs on east and west on the by-pass," he said.

Maurer thinks the highway by-pass could signal the end of small town America.

"They're dying right and left and I think that can happen to us as well," he said.

Valley and Fremont are other towns that were by-passed when Highway 275 was improved.

Statewide, 600 miles have been earmarked for "4-lane" roads.

More than 400 of those miles have been finished.

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