NDoR plan for Hwy. 30 expressway gets mixed reaction
by Nathan Arneal
About 200 people from Columbus to Fremont and everywhere in between attended a Nebraska Department of Roads open house at the North Bend city auditorium last Wednesday.
At the meeting NDOR unveiled its “preferred alternative” for the four-lane Highway 30 Expressway from Schuyler to Fremont.
Most people in the area have been hearing about the proposed expressway for about two decades now and have taken an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude. However, this time it appears all the stars have aligned to get the project going.
“I think this is going to be it,” Mark Johnson said. “Full speed ahead as far I’m concerned. I’m tired of talking about it and dealing with it.”
Johnson has been involved in the project as a former member of the North Bend City Council and was the council’s representative on the US 30 Advisory Panel in 2005 and 2006. The purpose of the 16-member panel was to agree on a route for the expressway to follow, something that had held the project up for years.
That changed in 2011 with LB 84, the Build Nebraska Act, which shifted a portion of the sales tax into funding for highway projects. The Act went into effect in 2013, and the Highway 30 Expressway was given new life.
Wednesday’s meeting essentially picked up where the process left off in 2006. The route NDoR presented to the public is essentially the same route the advisory panel recommended eight years ago.
Doug Wamberg, another member of the advisory panel in 2006, said the main concern he had back then was staying far enough away from North Bend that the highway didn’t create a “bathtub effect,” in essence a dike that would trap floodwater in North Bend if the roadway was built too close to town. He was glad to see NDOR’s preferred alternative take a wide loop around town. NDOR says the route will not affect 100-year flood elevations in North Bend.
The preferred alternative route unveiled last week is more detailed that the general ‘S’ Road route proposed in 2006.
The expressway would follow the current Highway 30 from Schuyler to a spot halfway between Rogers and North Bend. It leaves the current Highway 30 three miles west of North Bend near County Road 4 and curves north. It crosses to the north side of Road ‘S’, the first gravel road north of North Bend, and settles into a eastward track about a quarter mile north of the ‘S’ Road.
About two miles east of Highway 79, between roads 9 and 10, the expressway crosses back to the south side of the ‘S’ road and runs about an eighth of a mile south of ‘S’ all the way to Fremont. The shift back south is necessary to avoid some wetlands and to align with the current junction of highways 30 and 77 north of Fremont.
NDoR estimates that the state will have to acquire 675 acres of ground between Schuyler and Fremont for highway right-of-way.
Some of those acres will come from farm ground owned by Johnson. According to the plans, the expressway will cut through the southern edge of one of his fields and will require him to modify an irrigation pivot currently located on the ground. The state will cover the cost of pivot modification. NDoR expects 21 center pivots to require modification along the route.
While he’s not excited to surrender part of his land to the state for the highway, Johnson said he knows it’s part of the deal.
“It was going to go though our land wherever it went,” he said. “We’re all going to have to give a little on this thing, is my feeling.”
Not everyone was so accepting of NDoR’s route.
Joyce Bowman and her brother Randy Fujan own and farm ground at the intersections of roads ‘S’ and 10. Knowing that the ‘S’ Road was the likely path, Bowman said she was prepared to see the road cut through the edge of her ground. She wasn’t prepared to see the route she was shown Wednesday.
“We knew it was going to be either on the south side or the north side (of the ‘S’ Road),” Bowman said, “but we never imagined it was going to go through the middle of our ground.”
The preferred alternative does not follow the ‘S’ Road exactly, but stays either a quarter mile north or an eighth mile south of it. This chops through many farms, leaving a sliver of land separated from the rest of the field.
“Does that mean we have to now dig another well and use gravity irrigation instead of the center pivot that has been functioning there?” Bowman said. “It not only affects our farm, but it goes all the way through the middle of the farms all the way to Fremont.”
When she asked NDoR representatives at the meeting why the expressway didn’t follow the existing path of the ‘S’ Road closer, she was told the new highway had to stay clear of the Dowling Purcell Ditch that runs along the ‘S’ Road. She said she was told the ditch had to be avoided for drainage and wetland purposes.
“The ditches are considered a wetland, which takes priority over farmland,” Bowman said. “I’m just very disappointed.”
Like other people with concerns, Bowman was asked to write down her concerns and submit them to NDoR, and they would be considered before the final plan is adopted.
According a handout provided by NDoR at the meeting, three residences will be affected by the new expressway between Schuyler and Rogers, while one house will be affected between Rogers and Fremont.
Tim Weander is the NDoR engineer for District Two, which includes Dodge County. He said the preferred alternative route has not been set in stone yet.
The purpose of last Wednesday’s meeting was to see if there were any major objections to the plan.
“If we get through tonight and get the public comments,” Weander said, “and if we think there’s nothing that’s a show stopper, we’ll proceed and take it to the state highway commission and present it along with comments and concerns of the public.”
If the state highway commission approves it, the plan then goes to the governor for his approving signature.
“Once we have his signature on it, we have a project that’s ready to go,” Weander said.
Once the details are worked out and the route is finalized, the final plans will be brought to the public for comment again sometime in 2015.
The project has been put on a fast-track to completion, Weander said, and if things go smoothly, the portion of the expressway between Schuyler and Rogers can begin construction in 2016 with completion by 2018.
The rest of the road, from Rogers to Fremont, could be done in one long project or split into two projects. Weander estimated that the best-case scenario for this portion would start construction in 2018 and be ready to accept traffic by 2021 or 2022.
One thing that will not be included in the plan is an overpass interchange at the highway 79 and 30 junction north of North Bend. The North Bend City Council, North Bend Central school district and North Bend Chamber of Commerce have all come out in favor of an overpass for safety reasons, but NDoR has been consistent throughout the process in saying traffic at the 30-79 junction does not warrant an overpass.
“Based on traffic, we’re not looking at that as an immediate build with the project,” Weander said. “As the future traffic increases, that may be a possibility.”
Overall, Weander said the open house was a success and he looks forward to moving to the next step.
“It’s been good,” he said. “We love it. We’ve had a lot of people here. We’re hearing both sides. I think the people in this area want to see this project completed, so that’s what we’re looking for. We want to get off dead-center and say ‘Yeah, we’re ready to proceed with the design and build this project.’”
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