$10.2B Needed for Roads Over 20 Years

Billions of dollars are needed as gas tax revenues fall flat.

Thu November 20, 2014 - Midwest Edition

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) The Nebraska Department of Roads has identified $10.2 billion in projects that it said are needed over the next 20 years, according to a report released Nov. 10.

Lawmakers were given the report during a joint legislative committee hearing to review the state’s long-term roads funding needs.

The estimates were presented in 2014 dollars. Accounting for inflation, the total 20-year cost is expected to rise to $14.6 billion.

Nebraska has historically relied on gas-tax revenue, motor vehicle fees and federal dollars to pay for roads projects, said Randy Peters, director of the Department of Roads. Revenue from the state sources has flat-lined in recent years as cars and trucks became more fuel efficient, but the list of high-priority projects continued to grow.

“Nebraska, like most other states, reached the point where system preservation, including bridges, consumed virtually all of our construction funding,’’ Peters said. “Planned major capital improvement projects languished year after year.’’

About half of Nebraska’s construction money comes from the federal government. Peters said the state’s ability to complete the projects hinges on congressional approval of a new federal transportation bill, which was enacted in 2012 and extended until May 2015.

Peters said state roads directors from all 50 states have stressed the need for federal funding. Without the federal money, he said, Nebraska may have to delay some of its planned roads projects.

“We are very much unified in our support of Congress passing an increase in long-term highway funding,’’ he said.

In recent years, the department also has received about $60 million annually through the Build Nebraska Act, a state law which diverts sales-tax revenue into roads projects.

Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff said many of the planned projects are important in western Nebraska, for both safety and economic development.

Harms pointed to the planned development of the Heartland Expressway, which is expected to connect South Dakota and Colorado through the Nebraska Panhandle. Harms said he was worried that moving too slowly on the project could lead motorists to alternative routes that are planned in Wyoming.

“That would be a phenomenal loss in revenue and growth’’ for western Nebraska, Harms said.

The Build Nebraska Act sets aside one-quarter of a cent out of the state’s 5.5-cent sales tax for projects. The 2011 law departs from Nebraska’s decades-old practice of using gas-tax revenue and motor vehicle fees to pay for roads. Peters said construction is under way on the first wave of projects to receive Build Nebraska Act funding.

The department estimates that $6.6 billion is needed to restore cracked and otherwise damaged pavement over two decades. Another $3.3 billion is needed to flatten, widen or straighten rural roads and bridges, and $285.6 million is needed for similar work in urban areas, according to the report. In addition, the report calls for $179.6 million for construction on railroad crossings.

Not factored into the report are the cost of routine highway maintenance, administration and support services, and department buildings.

Funding needs were identified by department staff, the State Highway Commission and the public.

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