While it seems little is happening along the expressway since the opening of the north half of the two-part project to create a four-lane divided highway on US 385 from the junction of NE Hwy 2 south to the junction with L62A, NDOT has informed the Heartland Expressway Association (HEA) board that work continues to be done. “While people will not see construction work, this does not mean the project has been halted. In fact, work continues on the project and the project is on schedule. Several utility relocations have occurred, our current efforts are focused on the NEPA re-evaluation, and we are confident everything will be ready before the letting date of August 26, 2021. The project’s current estimate is over $36 million, which by way of comparison, is more than District 5’s annual construction allocation. Of course, the $18,263,743 in INFRA grant money certainly helps the project,” said Doug Hoevet, District 5 engineer from Gering, Nebraska.
There is a false assumption that since the second phase of the project was approved, and we got an unexpected $18 million grant, that things would move more quickly, following the first phase. There is nothing ‘quick’ about building roads. A NEPA (federal requirements to protect endangered species and other environmental concerns) re-evaluation takes time. Engineering takes time. Right-of-way acquisition takes time, and all of that has to be done before you can submit bid requests. That is why the letting date is not until August 2021. We all wish it would move more quickly, but rules have to be followed.
What can be said is that the current administrative folks at NE Department of Transportation (NDOT) have been truthful, open and collaborative during the process. Whenever there is a question, Director Schneweis has responded quickly. When rumors began to fly during the flooding that certain projects would suffer or be put on hold to divert funds to eastern Nebraska, Director Schneweis and his staff said that couldn’t be further from the truth. NDOT is to be commended for the way (and in the timeframe) they responded to 100s of miles of roads that had to be rebuilt after the floods. The speed with which they assisted in getting estimates together and submitted to FEMA for disaster designation was nothing short of heroic, in our opinion. And that assured the federal money would flow more quickly to the areas in the most need, thus causing less disruption in scheduled projects in the rest of the state.
The Board of Directors of the Heartland Expressway Association continues to represent all the communities along the route, communicates frequently with state and federal officials and advocates for the best, most efficient completion of the four-lane highway system. We will continue to do that on behalf of our members.
Deb Cottier is the Chairman of the Heartland Expressway Association Board of Directors.