April 28, 2015

For Nebraska, converting 2 to 4 lanes on 275 could equal $145M

4-lanes-4-nebraska-logo-final2[1]A trade and industry group says finishing the Nebraska Expressway System is long overdue.

And could boost the state economy.

Executive Director Josh Moenning with 4 Lanes 4 Nebraska says the expressway system project had long been touted as the top priority of the Nebraska Department of Roads.

“It’s nearly 30 years old and the job’s not quite done and, basically, we’re making the case that we need to finish the job,” Moenning tells Nebraska Radio Network.

NDOR first envisioned the Nebraska Expressway System to connect all the major cities in the state with four-lane highways in 1988. Momentum, though, seems to have waned.

Moenning says as late as 2006, NDOR placed completion of the Nebraska Expressway System front and center in its assessment report. It dropped off the page and seemed to drop down the list thereafter.

The last major stretch of highway left undone is Highway 275 between Norfolk and Omaha, more precisely east of Norfolk to northwest of Fremont. That 45-mile span of two-lane highway serves steelmakers, heavy manufacturers, and one of the largest cattle feeding areas in the nation.

An economic study commissioned by 4 Lanes 4 Nebraska and conducted by Creighton University professor Ernie Goss estimates Nebraska misses out on $145 million in annual economic activity and the creation of more than 1,300 jobs, because it hasn’t widened Highway 275. The study also included that expansion would greatly reduce accidents along that stretch of highway which carries heavy commercial traffic.

Moenning says lack of completion is holding the state back.

“We think right now we’re losing economic opportunities as a state by not modernizing our infrastructure,” according to Moenning.

Moenning says while expansion of Highway 275 would greatly benefit northeast Nebraska, it also would have a statewide economic impact.

“Getting that job complete can help our state grow and we think if we’re in fact serious about growing Nebraska, we have to be serious about investing in growth opportunities.”


Lawmakers ready to exit Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact

Amtrak photo

Amtrak photo

State lawmakers have moved closer to ending Nebraska’s participation in the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact, in three years.

The Unicameral has given preliminary approval to LB 317, which would end participation in the compact working to bring high-speed passenger rail service to the Midwest.

But not for three years.

Supporters of the bill complain the state pays $15,000 a year in dues to the compact and receives nothing for it.

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, who attended a meeting of compact states last year, says there’s a reason Nebraska doesn’t see any benefit from it.

“Every other state that’s participating sends their leadership from their department of transportation there,” Nordquist tells colleagues during legislative floor debate. “They’re coordinating across state agencies and across the region and Nebraska has said, ‘We’re not going to show up.’”

Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins supports the move to leave the compact.

“There’s nothing tougher to kill than a government program,” Bloomfield asserts. “The only thing that comes close is our involvement in a multi-government program that does us no good. We’ve been trying to choke this turkey for the last five years that I’ve been here.”

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion, had wanted to end participation immediately. He says the extension of three years gives supporters of the compact time to prove its worth.

The Unicameral would have to vote to return Nebraska to the compact.

Study: Ethanol is worth $5-billion to Nebraska coffers

Ethanol PlantA University of Nebraska study finds the ethanol industry has a five-billion dollar impact on the state’s economy.

Todd Sneller, head of the Nebraska Ethanol Board, says the report covers a five-year period, from 2010 to 2014, and shows renewable fuels are vital to the state’s economic engine.

“Ethanol production continues to be a very important part of the Nebraska economy,” Sneller says. “It has a very important impact year-to-year and that impact can be significantly higher than it was in 2014, depending on the value of the primary products coming from the ethanol plant.”

The report shows there are 1,300 people employed in the ethanol industry statewide at an average wage that is 21-percent higher than the state’s average manufacturing wage. Sneller says many of those are good quality jobs that are located in smaller communities.

“Quality jobs in rural parts of the state are especially important,” Sneller says. “I think many states understand and appreciate that but particularly those of us who work in states where we have communities of 500 people, for example, where 50 jobs have been created, those jobs are averaging wage rates approaching $60,000 a year. Those are really very important and those dollars contribute to the local and state economy.”

Sneller says the results of this study prove that the Renewable Fuel Standard is a critical part of the country’s federal public policy.

There are 24 ethanol plants in Nebraska that produce a total of more than two-billion gallons each year. Nebraska is the nation’s #2 producer of corn-based ethanol, behind only Iowa.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


AAA: Gas prices may drop toward $2 a gallon by summertime

gas-pump-111Nebraskans may not have to budget as much money for driving during the upcoming summer vacation as they did last summer.

Gail Weinholzer, at AAA-Nebraska, says all signs point to stable or lower gas prices in the months ahead.

Oil refineries have switched from the winter blend to the summer grade of fuel and there’s already an abundance of crude oil and refined oil, keeping gasoline prices low.

“There’s no reason to expect any significant increases, and in fact, we may actually see a slight decrease as we approach $2 a gallon perhaps, as we head into the summer driving season,” Weinholzer says.

She says the fuel cost forecast is based on what’s known right now.

“There’s always some exceptions to that should anything significant happen to the oil fields in the Middle East. Once we get into the summer season, of course, we always have to keep an eye on the hurricanes in the Gulf,” Weinholzer says. “Aside from those two things, the increased supply and relatively stable demand will keep prices low.”

The national average for gas is now $2.38 a gallon, while it’s $2.36 in Nebraska. That statewide average is down from $3.61 a year ago, or, lower by a $1.25 a gallon.


Gas tax increase nearing passage in Unicameral (AUDIO)

Sen. Jim Smith/Photo courtesy of Unicameral Information Office

Sen. Jim Smith/Photo courtesy of Unicameral Information Office

A six-cent increase in the state gas tax is on the verge of passing.

State lawmakers have advanced to final round LB 610, a bill that would increase the state gas tax by six cents over four years, on a 27-14 vote. If that vote holds on final round, it wouldn’t be enough to overcome a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has voiced his opposition to the tax hike.

If approved and fully incorporated, the state gas tax would generate approximately $76 million annually to pay for road and bridge repair.

Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion told colleagues his bill will help fix badly deteriorating roads and bridges.

“This is a small, modest, reasonable increase in a user fee to meet the needs for our infrastructure in this state,” Smith said during legislative floor debate.

Some senators, though, objected to voting to increase the gas tax without approving sizeable property tax relief.

Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft questioned how the increase will accomplish its stated goal.

“We don’t have a plan. Let’s be clear. What is the plan? Who will start getting their bridge first?” Brasch asked.

The majority of legislators, though, say too many bridges have been rated deficient and road repair has fallen badly behind. They frame the increase as an increase in the user fee and point out the neighboring states of Iowa and South Dakota have taken advantage of the recent drop in gas prices to hike their gas taxes.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]