Transportation and Telecommunications

Northeast highway expansion proposed

The state would fund expansion of U.S. Highway 81 in Nebraska under a bill considered Feb. 28 by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.

Sen. Barry DeKay
Sen. Barry DeKay

LB454, introduced by Niobrara Sen. Barry DeKay, states legislative intent to appropriate funds to the state Department of Transportation to plan, design, and purchase rights-of-way along Highway 81 between Norfolk and the South Dakota border and between Columbus and York for conversion to a four-lane divided highway.

The bill also would appropriate funds for signage and development of a gateway entrance at Highway 81 and Neb. Highway 12 to alert travelers to the locations of Niobrara State Park and Lewis and Clark Lake.

DeKay said Highway 81 is a major thoroughfare, particularly for truck traffic, and is a critical corridor that needs to be completed. The state’s agricultural industry would benefit from the expansion, he said.

“Agriculture is the state’s number one industry,” DeKay said. “I feel that [LB454] would enhance the growth of agriculture from the grain trade to the cow-calf operation to the feedlots of northeast Nebraska by allowing them to have better access to markets up north in South Dakota or I-80 to the south to states like Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.”

The highway also would enhance safety, he said, and increase economic development through tourism along the corridor.

Lisa Hurley, executive director of the York County Development Corporation, testified in support of the bill. Nebraska is the only state that has not completed its portion of the federally designated four-lane highway system, Hurley said, and doing so would advance economic development in the state.

“Back in 2016, impacts show that completion [of Highway 81] would add $3.4 billion to Nebraska’s GDP,” Hurley said. “It would annually support an additional 1,858 new jobs and would add 4,221 [people] to the state population.”

Dawson Brunswick, president of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, also testified in support.
As the state’s rural population grows in certain areas, he said, it’s imperative that Highway 81 be completed to assist with workforce recruitment.

“In the last census, Columbus grew 8.7 percent and Norfolk grew 3.1 percent … and that’s without a complete Highway 81,” he said. “All along this corridor, we’re seeing major growth for Nebraska.”

No one testified in opposition to LB454 and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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