Transportation and Telecommunications

Proposal would expand transportation program to add infrastructure

The Transportation and Telecommunications Committee heard testimony March 7 on a bill that would expand a state transportation program to include certain infrastructure improvements.

Sen. Loren Lippincott
Sen. Loren Lippincott

The Economic Opportunity Program, administered by the state Department of Transportation in coordination with the state Department of Economic Development, finances transportation improvements to attract new business in the state through the Transportation Infrastructure Bank Fund.

LB600, introduced by Central City Sen. Loren Lippincott, would expand the program to include infrastructure improvements for first and second class cities and villages for redevelopment plans approved under the state’s Community Development Law.

Lippincott said allowing funds to be used for infrastructure development would further the program’s goal of driving economic development and would improve the physical landscape of rural communities. The key to having construction-ready sites is having infrastructure that can support the needs of highly lucrative businesses, he said.

Compared to neighboring states, he said, Nebraska lags in development of large sites that can attract major employers for regional manufacturing, processing, trade and logistics hubs.

“As a state, we’re still failing investors, both within and outside the state, by limiting the use of these funds to transportation improvements alone,” Lippincott said.

Former state senator Sue Crawford, representing the city of York and the York County Development Corporation, testified in favor of the bill. LB600 would expand infrastructure in rural communities, she said, something that cannot be overemphasized in economic development.

“LB600 allows for proactive infrastructure development,” Crawford said. “You don’t get on anybody’s radar unless you have a lot ready.”

Also in support was Lynn Rex. Speaking on behalf of the League of Nebraska Municipalities, she said the bill would support infrastructure development and provide incentives for businesses to locate in Nebraska.

In opposition to the bill was Vicki Kramer, director of the state Department of Transportation. She expressed concern that the proposal would create a precedent of requiring the department to fund infrastructure site development projects with funding intended for transportation.

“[LB600] also creates potential issues with funding by bringing state, federal and private funds into the Transportation Infrastructure Bank,” Kramer said. “The department has worked hard to streamline the program to be agile and usable for communities by limiting it to state funds.”

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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