- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 11, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The first roads projects covered under a 3-year-old state law are proceeding ahead of schedule, Nebraska officials said Wednesday.

The work began after lawmakers passed the Build Nebraska Act, which commits one-quarter of a cent out of the state’s 5.5-cent sales tax to roads projects. Gov. Dave Heineman and Department of Roads Director Randy Peters said the six projects scheduled for fiscal 2014 and 2015 are moving forward.

Nebraska’s 10-year plan calls for 17 projects throughout the state.

“These roads projects are critical to Nebraska’s future,” Heineman said at a news conference at the Capitol. “Good roads are important for economic growth and public safety.”

The first projects include highway construction between Blair and Omaha, bypass projects in Kearney and Wahoo, and three projects around Interstate 80 in Omaha. Peters said the state is ahead of its schedule on this round of roadwork.

The so-called second phase cover roadwork around Lincoln, Plattsmouth, Bellevue, Hastings, Schuyler, Fremont, Nebraska City and the Heartland Expressway to Alliance.

A third group is expected to include a south beltway around Lincoln, a highway widening project west of Grand Island, roadwork between Murray and Plattsmouth, and a new I-80 interchange in Omaha. Intersections on U.S. Highway 77 around west Lincoln will be converted into highway interchanges.

The law by then-state Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine was approved in 2011 in an effort to accelerate work on construction that was delayed for years. Nebraska in past years has focused on preserving its existing roads and bridges, which left little money for new construction.

The law will set aside about $70 million a year, departing from Nebraska’s decades-old practice of using revenue from gas taxes and motor vehicle fees to pay for roads. Of the money set aside for roads, 85 percent will go toward state highway upgrades and 15 percent will get distributed to cities and counties.

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