Aeronautics, Roads merger proposed

The Transportation and Telecommunications Committee heard testimony Jan. 30 on a bill that would create a new, unified transportation department.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist34' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Curt Friesen'>Sen. Curt Friesen</a>
Sen. Curt Friesen

Under LB339, introduced by Henderson Sen. Curt Friesen, the state Department of Aeronautics would be merged with the state Department of Roads, effective July 1. The combined agencies would be renamed the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

Friesen said the state’s decreasing revenue projections make now a good time to look for ways to cut spending.

“It’s appropriate to look at the opportunities it presents us to find efficiencies and savings,” he said, adding that Nebraska is the only state without a unified department of transportation.

The newly formed department would be administered by the director-state engineer for the state Department of Transportation. This position would be filled by the current director-state engineer for the state Department of Roads.

Kyle Schneweis, state Department of Roads director, supported the bill, saying it would help the department become more efficient. He said the merger represents the state’s general commitment to a more effective and customer-focused government.

“We’re about connecting our communities and providing the means by which Nebraska businesses can move their products to market,” he said. “The merger will help Nebraska take a more strategic long-term approach to our state’s transportation needs.”

State Department of Aeronautics Director Ronnie Mitchell also testified in support of the bill. He said LB339 would result in annual savings of more than $93,000.

“[The bill] would benefit the Department of Aeronautics through resources, talent-sharing and collaboration,” Mitchell said. “We anticipate additional efficiencies and improved delivery of services to Nebraska airports, with no jobs lost.”

Representing the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Jared Esselman opposed the bill. He said his organization supports the concepts behind LB339, but had concerns regarding the continued funding of aviation in Nebraska.

“We know that the federal government mandates the use of airport revenue and we’re okay with that,” he said. “Our pilots just want to know that their aeronautics funding is going to remain intact.”

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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