Nebraska legislative bill aims to speed up highway construction

Gov. Jim Pillen believes the state’s been doing it all wrong for decades.
A bill working through the Nebraska Legislature aims to speed up the process of construction and improvement of the state's highways.
Published: Feb. 22, 2023 at 8:14 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Governor Jim Pillen went before a legislative committee today in Lincoln to prove a point.

“I believe we’ve really missed the boat.”

He’s using his hometown of Columbus as a reference point -- specifically, Highway 81 on the north edge of town, a four-lane road.

He’s critical of the process Nebraska uses for funding highway construction, pointing the problems out on the east side of town with Highway 30 to Fremont.

“Personally, Suzanne and I moved back from Kansas State in 1983,” Pillen said. “Guess what -- the four-lane expansion started that year on the east of Columbus. We’re still not connected to Fremont on four lanes. My math says that’s 40 years.”

Right now, construction projects stall for one of four reasons: funding, permitting, design, or local politics. By offering highway bonds, not to exceed $450 million, the governor looks to eliminate one of those stall factors -- funding.

It’s making progress -- two years ago, the Associated General Contractors of Nebraska opposed a similar bill. Now, membership is neutral.

“If the state issues bonds, we think it’s critical that you identify a dedicated source of funding for how you’ll make the payments to avoid any situation in which you’re reaching into your future annual budget to make payments for work that is already done,” said Tim Hrusa.

The governor says highway bonds are a way to be fiscally responsible while speeding up the process.

Nebraska’s transportation director says the projects that would get attention from this would already be identified as a need for the state, such as the Highway 77, 75, and 81 corridors.