Gov. Pete Ricketts has endorsed a proposal to accelerate road and bridge projects in the state.
Ricketts backs creation of a transportation infrastructure bank, which would borrow $150 million from the $728 million state cash reserve fund to build expressways, help counties pay for bridge repair, and fund economic development projects.
Ricketts says the money would be gradually transferred over a period of time from the cash reserve fund when needed. It would be paid back through unprogrammed dollars, federal dollars, and savings.
The state cash reserves currently stand at $728 million.
Nebraska Department of Roads Director Kyle Schneweis says an influx of money would speed up completion of road and bridge projects, which would save money.
“This proposal will save us time and will save us money and it’s going to help us better support the economy in the state,” Schneweis tells reporters during a news conference in the governor’s hearing room at the Capitol.
According to Schneweis, major road projects can take between seven and 12 years to complete. Schneweis estimates that the state can cut as much as four years off that time frame by using design-build projects. He estimates proposed expressway projects in Nebraska could be completed by 2033.
Several major road projects languish in Nebraska, such as the proposed four-lane highway between Norfolk and Omaha, 45 miles that at present isn’t expected to be completed until 2024 at the earliest. In all, 167 miles of the proposed 600 miles of expressways have yet to be built.
Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, chairman of the Transportation Committee, says major projects have lagged behind for too long.
“The primary portion of this infrastructure bank will go to satisfy the promises and commitments we made back in the 1980s on expressway systems,” according to Smith. “So, let’s be mindful of that the majority of this money will go toward those promises that were made in the 1980s.”
Smith, who successfully guided a six cent increase in the state gas tax through the Unicameral last year, plans to formally file the bill after Gov. Ricketts’ State of the State address next week.
The infrastructure bank would also provide state money to match county funds to repair bridges as well as money to complete economic development projects.
Ricketts says the move won’t put state finances at risk.
“Well, as I’ve said I think the cash reserve fund is too large and a number that I am more comfortable with is around $500 million. This fits within that budget and it gets back to prioritizing how we want to spend our money just like every Nebraska family has to do. And in this case, it’s incredibly important that we have that 21st Century roads infrastructure.”