May 24, 2015

AAA: This will be the biggest Memorial Day for travel in 10 years

gas-pump-111Nebraska’s highways and interstates will be exceptionally busy next weekend, the first big holiday travel weekend of the year.

Gail Weinholzer, spokeswoman for AAA-Nebraska, says it’s forecast to be the busiest Memorial Day weekend for travel in a full decade.

“We expect a nearly 5% increase in travel for this Memorial Day over last year,” Weinholzer says. “In fact, it will be an all-time high for the past 10 years. We expect 37.2-million Americans to travel at least 50 miles or more between Thursday the 21st and Monday the 25th.”

The biggest factor in the travel forecast is the price of gasoline, which has fallen a long ways from Memorial Day of 2014.

“We’re seeing fuel prices about a dollar below where they were last year at this time,” Weinholzer says. “That certainly provides people with an added incentive to travel. Of the 37.2-million Americans that are traveling, 33-million will be traveling by personal automobile and obviously, they’ll be taking advantage of the lower fuel costs.”

The national average for a gallon of unleaded self-service gas is $2.65, which is several pennies above what Nebraskans are paying at the pump.

“The state of Nebraska’s average today is $2.55 as compared to a year ago today when it was $3.53,” Weinholzer says. “So, obviously, that’s a significant savings.”

Holiday air travel is expected to rise as well, due to lower fuel costs. The average airfares for the top 40 domestic flight routes are 2% cheaper this year compared to last year, falling to $222.


Floodwaters close numerous roads in Nebraska

NDOR camera shot of US 77 near Roca Thursday morning

NDOR camera shot of US 77 near Roca Thursday morning

Flooding brought on by the severe weather which roared through Nebraska has made a number of highways impassable this morning.

The Nebraska Department of Roads and the Nebraska State Patrol closed several highways due to high water.

Both NDOR and NSP remind motorists not to drive around road closure barricades or attempt to driver through floodwaters.

The following roads are closed:

Exit 409 off I-80, Lincoln area, near Waverly exit, closed due to flooding on Highway 6

Highway 81 at Mile Marker 11 Both Directions at Hebron

Highway 77 South of Highway 33 at Crete corner

Highway 136 at Mile Marker 125 west of Hebron near Ruskin

Highway 53 between Highways 4 and 136 near Alexandria

Highway 63 at Mile Marker 4.97 North of Alvo Road

For updated information and current road closures, please check 511. Click here for the 511 website.


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