The North Bend Eagle

  Chamber meeting with NDoR
Nebraska Department or Roads Deputy Director Khalil Jaber addresses the North Bend Chamber of Commerce.

NDoR to Chamber: No interchange at 30, 79

by Nathan Arneal
Published 4/13/16

Top officials in the Nebraska Department of Roads last Wednesday [April 6, 2016] reiterated their long-held position that the intersection of Highway 79 and the future four-lane Highway 30 expressway does not warrant an overpass interchange.

However, NDoR projections say such an interchange could be necessary and be built around the year 2030.

Thirty-six North Bend Chamber of Commerce members – about twice the attendance of an average meeting – attended the April 6 Chamber meeting at the North Bend Golf Course. They were there to listen to and voice concerns to NDoR Director Kyle Schneweis, Deputy Director for Engineering Khalil Jaber and District 2 Engineer Tim Weander.

Highway 30, 79 intersectionThe future intersection between highways 79 and 30 will sit about a mile north of North Bend. At this time there is no plan for an interchange, but the plans allow the space for one to be built in the future.

Chamber president Jason Saalfeld started the discussion by handing out a letter the Chamber sent to Schneweis in January. The letter voiced the Chamber’s desire for an overpass interchange at the future intersection of highways 79 and 30, which will be about a mile north of North Bend. In part, the letter read:

“The Chamber was notified... that the traffic count did not dictate need for an (interchange) between the two very well-traveled roads. The North Bend Chamber of Commerce strongly disagrees and predicts the current plan will lead to numerous accidents and a potential loss of life, both for North Bend residents and those passing through the area... An overpass at the intersection of Highway 30 and Highway 79 is absolutely crucial to the safety of residents and visitors for generations to come.”

After the Chamber letter was passed out, former NBC superintendent Jim Havelka presented a letter on behalf of the school and superintendent Dan Endorf, who could not be at the meeting. Havelka said he understood that NDoR needed to be consistent in how it decided where interchanges were installed, but he said this particular location has some unique features above and beyond the raw traffic numbers.

“All our schools are at the north end of the community,” Havelka said, “near where the expressway and Highway 79 will cross. The bulk of our school district lies north of the community. We’re the southernmost school in our activities conference, so that almost all of our activity traffic is from the north. While the number of vehicles crossing that intersection every day may not be large enough to initially justify an interchange, the type of traffic, we think, does. There’s going to be an awful lot of kid traffic. We run three bus routes north of town each day, not to mention the number of high school kids driving. The crossings there are going to be dangerous. There’s no way around it.”

Jaber, the NDoR deputy director, said the expressway plans allow enough room for an interchange to be built in the future. However, he said the expressway will be built without an interchange at the location.

“This location as of today and with the projection, it does not meet the warrants for an actual interchange,” Jaber said. “However, what we’ve done, is we’ve made our design set up so it accommodates a future interchange.”

Jaber said traffic counts have been done annually since about 2000, and the counts have varied little in that time. When asked how far short the count falls from requiring an interchange, he said he couldn’t answer that for sure.
He went on to explain that it is not a matter of a simple vehicle count that dictates whether an interchange will be built. There are several factors that get plugged into a matrix, including the percentage of truck traffic and how many vehicles are turning compared to passing through.

Weander, the engineer for NDoR District 2, which includes Dodge County, said projections predict a interchange will be needed someday.

“If you look strictly the traffic numbers and conflict movements that you have at that interchange and take it into the future, 2030 is about the time a traffic signal might be warranted,” Weander said.

Jaber said that when a traffic signal is warranted on a freeway such as this, NDoR installs an interchange. The current freeway should be done by 2020 or 2021, Jaber said.

Several people asked the NDoR personnel why it wouldn’t just build the interchange in the first place if it expects to come back nine or 10 years later and install one.

Schneweis said that’s not the way it works.

“If we’re going build everything that we’re going to need in 2030 today, we can’t do it,” the NDoR director said. “We’ve got to be careful. Some of the things you build when they’re needed, otherwise you’re out of money.”

Schneweis said the current cost of building a standard diamond interchange is about $12 million.

“I appreciate the comment, ‘if you’re going to build it anyways, why don’t you just build it now?’” Schneweis said. “I think that’s an important thing to think about. If that’s where we’re headed, maybe that’s what we need to do. But $12 million here, and $12 there, and there and there — we can’t do that.”

Rev. Michael Hill of the United Presbyterian Church said he didn’t care about the numbers. He was concerned about the lives that will be lost while young drivers and farmers in slow machinery try to cross four lanes of speeding expressway traffic.

“Is there a fatality amount that it has to hit before those numbers go up?” Hill asked. “Because that’s what’s going to happen before 2030.”

Jaber thanked Hill for his “profound” remarks, and said every project has people asking for interchanges at not just highway intersections, but sometimes intersections with county roads.

“I will tell you, everywhere I go, they tell me the same story you just shared with me, and I understand that,” Jaber said. “The dilemma for us is we cannot afford to put interchanges at every highway junction.”

Schneweis agreed with his deputy director.

“If we had $12 million for every interchange, we’d build every interchange,” he said. “We have to be very careful about the ones we do. I do appreciate your passion and the things you’re saying.”

Jaber also gave an update on how the expressway project is progressing. The entire project from Schuyler to Fremont will cost about $140 million.

The first segment of the project, from Schuyler to Rogers, is currently in right-of-way negotiations with land owners along the corridor. The next segment, from Rogers around North Bend to Fremont, is all but finished with the design process. Next up is the right-of-way appraisals and negotiations. Construction on the Rogers-to-Fremont segment is expected to begin in 2018.

The next public meeting on the project will be an open house May 3 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the North Bend City Auditorium.

 

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