- Associated Press - Thursday, September 22, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska is slated to invest nearly $300 million for eight long-delayed highway projects and will begin design work on 12 others with the goal of finishing them all by 2033.

Gov. Pete Ricketts unveiled the project list Thursday at the Capitol. The projects will receive funding through a $450 million infrastructure package lawmakers approved in April.

The list includes the expansion of U.S. Highway 275 from two lanes to four, a major priority of business leaders in that area who lobbied for state funding. Construction will begin first between Scribner and West Point at a cost of $90 million. A stretch between West Point and Pilger is in the design phase.

“There are a lot of people in the country talking about infrastructure, but in Nebraska, we’re doing it,” said Kyle Schneweis, director of the Nebraska Department of Roads.

Schneweis said he’s confident his agency has the manpower it needs to handle all eight projects.

Work will take place first on priority projects on Interstate 680, U.S. Highway 6 and U.S. Highway 75 in Omaha; Nebraska Highway 7 between Bassett and Springview; U.S. Highway 26 in Minatare; U.S. Highway 77 in Fremont; and U.S. Highway 83 between North Platte and McCook.

The roads package is intended to jump-start work on highway construction projects and dilapidated county bridges that have languished for years.

Lawmakers and Ricketts created what’s known as an infrastructure bank to finance the work, drawing $50 million from the state’s cash reserve and using additional revenue from a gas tax increase approved last year. Besides the money for highways and bridges, the package also includes some financing to improve road conditions around new businesses.

Although he opposed the gas tax increase, Ricketts said the highway projects are vital to the biggest industries in the state economy: agriculture, manufacturing and tourism.

“It’s something that’s incredibly important for Nebraska,” he said.

Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, who introduced the funding package, said the legislation will allow the state to deliver projects faster and more efficiently, using a “design-build” approach that relies on a single contractor for an entire project. Traditionally, projects are designed by one firm and then contractors bid for the construction work.

Many of the projects were designated as priorities in 1988 under then-Gov. Kay Orr but never materialized because the state didn’t have a consistent funding source. Orr said she was pleased to finally see the expressway package move forward.

“We knew at the time it wouldn’t be completed immediately, but we never knew it was going to take this long,” she said.

The plan was supported by Nebraska cities, counties and business and community groups as vital for economic development.

Other projects that will be designed but not completed immediately are located in North Platte, Louisville, Yutan, Gretna, Bellevue, Grand Island, Kearney, Nebraska City, Wahoo, York, West Point, Pilger and Alliance.

Another two projects involving highway interchanges in Omaha and Lincoln’s East Beltway are in the planning stages but still need to be designed.

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