The advocacy organization 4 Lanes 4 Nebraska should be complimented for not ignoring an important part of the equation when it released a report touting the benefits of widening Highway 275 to four lanes between Norfolk and Omaha.
The report conducted by Dr. Ernie Goss of Creighton University devoted attention to discussion of how to actually pay for the $186 million project.
It’s common knowledge that traditional sources of funding for highway construction and maintenance are drying up. Vehicles consume less fuel than they did in previous decades, so gas tax revenues have not kept pace with the amount of miles driven and number of vehicles on the road.
The federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993. The state gas tax has not been raised since 2008. Meanwhile the cost of street and road projects continues to rise due to inflation.
A number of fresh ideas are mentioned in the Goss report. They include:
* Public-private partnerships in which a private company designs, builds and operates the roadway. Typically the cost of the project is then paid by collecting tolls. Colorado recently used this approach to pay for new express lanes from Denver to Broomfield. The express lanes are slated to open this summer. An express pass to use the lane will cost $7.75, officials announced earlier this year.
Currently, Nebraska has no laws authorizing such partnerships. Goss reported that in 2013 there were 33 states with laws that allow the partnerships.
* Some states have instituted new fees on electric and hybrid vehicles. The approach has proved contentious.
* Oregon is experimenting with taxes based on the number of miles a vehicle travels. Illinois has implemented such a fee for trucks. The system requires use of a GPS tracking device. Some residents are suspicious about government surveillance.
* One more familiar scenario addressed in the report would be for state government to issue bonds for major projects, like the widening of Highway 275. A proposal from former Sen. Annette Dubas to issue $400 million in highway bonds fell three votes short in the Legislature last year.
Nebraska is one of only two states that do not allow highway bonds, Goss reported. The other state is Wyoming.
The use of bonds drew support at two open house meetings in West Point and Norfolk on the widening project, said Josh Moenning, executive director of 4 Lanes 4 Nebraska.
The Legislature currently is considering a proposal from Sen. Jim Smith to phase in 1.5-cent annual increases in the gas tax over the next four years.
That’s a worthy approach for meeting a genuine public need, but as the Goss report points out, there are other options that also should be considered.
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