The North Bend Eagle

Highway 30 expressway
The four lane section of Highway 30 comes to an abrupt hault just east of Schuyler. The roadway between Schuyler and Fremont is the only two-lane portion of the highway between Omaha and Columbus.

Highway 30 construction could begin as soon as 2016

by Nathan Arneal
Published 5/9/12

One patron at the new North Bend library last week said it was a dream of hers to see the library built in her lifetime.

That dream came to fruition. As for the Highway 30 expressway that’s been in the plans for the past 20 years, she wasn’t so optimistic.

Now it looks like the long-awaited, perpetually-delayed four-lane bypass will become a reality within the decade.

We’ll pause while you take a seat and wait for the room to stop spinning.

Seeing the map of possible routes.Mike Owen of the Nebraska Deptartment of Roads explains the potential route of the Highway 30 expressway around North Bend.

State senator Charlie Janssen and Nebraska Department of Roads representative Mike Owen attended a North Bend Chamber of Commerce meeting last Wednesday and said, yes, the expressway is coming. The project is scheduled to break ground sometime between 2016 and 2019. Owen estimated that once the project began, it would take four to five years to complete the expressway between Schuyler and Fremont.

Janssen, a member of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said things could always change, but for now, the project is a go.

“Anything can happen in the state budget,” he said, “but with LB 84 funding in place, this is on the schedule to happen.”

For more than a decade, different factions argued about the route the highway would follow. In 2006, the U.S. 30 Advisory Panel, made up of various interested and affected parties, came out of a year-and-a-half mediation recommending the expressway follow County Road S, the first gravel road north of North Bend.

It took a couple more years for all the required parties to sign on to that plan, and by that time, the money had dried up and the project went back on the shelf.
Enter Legislative Bill 84.

LB 84, passed by the Nebraska Unicameral in 2011, diverted 0.25 percent of existing sales tax to pay for road construction and improvements. That adds up to about $60 million per year.

During the 2012 legislative session, an attempt to repeal LB 84 spearheaded by Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha failed. Janssen urged North Benders to remain vocal in their support of LB 84 so it remains in effect.

“We need a different way to fund our roads,” Janssen said. “In the past, it was all gas tax, gas tax, gas tax. The good thing is that we have more economical cars now, but the bad thing is that there is less revenue generated by gas taxes. We needed a new funding mechanism. (LB 84) was a small way to do this in Nebraska to allow some of these projects to move to the forefront.”

With funding back in place, the Schuyler to Fremont Highway 30 project is ranked as NDoR’s top priority among six projects slated to begin between 2016 and 2019. It is also the most expensive of those projects, estimated at $110.3 million.

LB 84 was also significant in that it will allow the expressway to be built with state funds rather than federal money and all the red tape that comes with it.

“If we can build it with state money,” Owen said, “we can be more efficient and we can deliver the project faster.”

Owen, a planning and project development engineer with NDoR, showed the Chamber a map of the potential route that generally follows the plan approved by the 2006 mediation group. It departs existing Highway 30 three miles west of North Bend and curves up to meet County Road S.

Owen’s map included two variations, one with the expressway traveling south of Road S— and more importantly the drainage ditch that runs along Road S— and one running north of Road S.

While he was hesitant to show favoritism for one route over the other, after some prodding Owen did say the northern route was more likely to be the preferred route by NDoR, since it interfered with fewer structures. As shown on Owen’s map, the southern route would require the removal of three businesses and three homes. It would also come close to Woodland Cemetery and cut through the floodway, two more strikes against it.

The northern route crossed Highway 79 about a quarter mile north of the S Road before eventually curving south to hug the drainage ditch and Road S. This option did not interfere with any houses or businesses.

Owen said his goal is to hold public meetings to discuss the final route this fall. At that meeting, NDoR will present its preferred route along with two alternatives and solicit public feedback.

The project plans will allow for space to build an overpass interchange where highways 30 and 79 cross. However, traffic counts do not meet the requirement for an interchange at this time, so initial construction will not include an interchange. NDoR estimates what future traffic volume will be like in 20 year increments. Owen said that the 2020 estimates don’t warrant an interchange, but the 2040 estimates do. He also said building the interchange would be its own project no matter when it is done, so building an interchange at the same time as the rest of the expressway wouldn’t necessarily save the state any money.

The expressway would likely begin in the west near Schuyler, Owen said, and work its way east toward Fremont. NDoR would likely break the construction into a series of three projects or phases.

As for the old Highway 30, it would be relinquished to the control of the county. Janssen said he hoped that the current Highway 30 would stay open between North Bend and Fremont even after the express way is built a mile or more north. He said once the truck traffic moves to the expressway, Old Highway 30 could become the preferred route between Fremont and North Bend for locals.

Owen said the time has come to finish the Highway 30 expressway. Once the Schuyler to Fremont section is complete, a four-lane highway will run from Omaha to Columbus to Norfolk.

“This project was stagnate because we couldn’t afford it until LB84,” Owen said. “It’s a significant project for us and we think it’s a very important project. Highway 30 has a lot of traffic on it and we estimate that the traffic will continue to grow. Plus, there’s a lot of trucks on it.”

Janssen said it is looking good that the Highway 30 expressway will break ground by the end of the decade.

“I don’t feel right now, seeing the way the Legislature is set up, that LB 84 funding is in jeopardy,” he said. “I like where we’re at on the (priority) list. I feel confident the project will happen in that period of time.”

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