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Bill advanced to allow ‘progressive design-build’ of highways, bridges

By: - March 29, 2022 4:52 pm
Traffic along Interstate 80

Traffic flows along Interstate 80 east of exit 432 in Gretna. Law enforcement officials say Nebraska drivers lag in buckling up n the road. (Rebecca S. Gratz for Tthe Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — The state would have a new tool to help complete the long-delayed state expressway system, and other highway and bridge projects, under a bill that appears headed for approval in the Nebraska Legislature.

With little debate Monday, lawmakers gave 31-0 first-round approval for Legislative Bill 1016, which would allow the Nebraska Department of Transportation to enter into “progressive design-build” partnerships with companies to get projects done more quickly and at less cost. 

Lynn Walz
State Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

State Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont said 32 other states now utilize such public-private partnerships.

Avoid inflationary costs

She said that by contracting with a company to design and build a freeway, then paying the company back over time, the state could get projects done more quickly. Walz said that would also save hundreds of thousands of dollars by avoiding the escalating costs of concrete and other materials.

“Interest payments are significantly less costly than inflation costs,” the senator said.

Currently, Nebraska highway projects are a “pay-as-you-go” proposition, Walz said, so LB 1016 gives the state another option to get construction work done sooner. The state cannot issue bonds to build roads under current law, the DOT has concluded, she said. 

John Selmer, the director of the Nebraska DOT, testified in favor of LB 1016 during a public hearing in February. He told lawmakers that a “progressive design-build” agreement gives the state more oversight over the work.

Expressway program delayed

Nebraska has been struggling to complete a state expressway system first proposed in 1988, with about a third of the 600-mile system unfinished.

Fremont, which Walz represents, has experienced the delays first-hand as four-lane freeways that link up with Columbus, Norfolk and Wahoo have all been delayed.

Walz said that the system is now expected to be completed in 2040, about seven years later than projected. In addition, funding from the Build Nebraska Act — which earmarked ¼-cent of state sales taxes to complete the expressways and for highway improvements — will end in 2031.

She said LB 1016 could be used to complete the freeway system but could also be used for a wide range of other highway and bridge projects.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and was named editor of the Papillion Times in 1982. He later worked as a sports enterprise reporter at the Lincoln Journal-Star. He joined the Omaha World-Herald in 1990, working as a legislative reporter, then roving state reporter and finally Lincoln bureau chief. Paul has won awards from organizations including Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation and secretary of the Nebraska Hop Growers.

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