State now expected to complete long-delayed expressway system in 2036

Lincoln South Beltway set to open Wednesday, four years after construction began

By: - December 13, 2022 4:59 pm
Lincoln South Beltway

Early construction on the Lincoln South Beltway, which is scheduled to open on Wednesday. (Courtesy of the Nebraska Department of Transportation)

LINCOLN — The long-delayed state expressway system — once projected to be completed by 2003— is now expected to be completed by 2036, state lawmakers were told Tuesday.

That’s good news, because last year, the projected end date was 2040, according to John Selmer, the director of the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

Selmer, during an annual briefing with the Legislature’s Appropriations and Transportation and Telecommunications committees, said that a combination of factors came together to move up the timeline. The expressway project was designed to link Nebraska communities larger than 15,000 people to an Interstate with a four-lane, divided expressway.

Faster studies

One factor was devoting more resources to complete engineering and environmental studies, he said, and additional funding from the state and the federal infrastructure bill. That bill will increase federal highway funds by about $110 million, Selmer said.

He pointed to two expressway projects where the timetable has been moved up — U.S. Highway 77 from Mead to Fremont and U.S. 81 between York and Columbus.

About $800 million worth of expressway work remains to be done, Selmer said, with about 70% of the 600-miles of expressway already completed.

Lincoln Beltway opening early

Meanwhile, state transportation and City of Lincoln officials will gather Wednesday morning to officially open the Lincoln South Beltway.

Lincoln South Beltway
The Lincoln South Beltway, to open on Wednesday, creates a new route for Nebraska Highway 2 around south Lincoln. (Courtesy Nebraska Department of Transportation)

The beltway, an 11-mile, four-lane freeway around south Lincoln, was expected to be completed by the fall of 2024, four years after construction began. But good weather, along with some unique financing, allowed Hawkins Construction to finish the $352-million project early.

It is the largest project ever undertaken by the NDOT.

Selmer said Tuesday that some work remains to be done, but the bypass freeway — designed to reduce traffic congestion through Lincoln on old Nebraska Highway 2 — will be opened to traffic on Wednesday.

Moser says bonding beneficial

In 2019, the Nebraska Legislature passed a bill that allowed the state to pay off the cost of the Lincoln South Beltway project over eight years, rather than all at once — a financing mechanism which State Sen. Mike Moser of Columbus compared to bonding, which the state does not use.

State Sen. Mike Moser
State Sen. Mike Moser of Columbus (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

Moser, an advocate for bond-financing of road construction, said that the Lincoln project illustrated the benefit of financing such projects and getting the work done sooner.

Selmer said that bonding is no “panacea” and that it can result in committing future funds to pay off bonds, rather than using funds for immediate road-building needs.

The South Beltway also benefitted from a $25-million federal “Tiger Grant” obtained by U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, a Lincoln native, as well as about $50 million in funding from the City of Lincoln.

 

 

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.

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