August 08, 2015 11:00 pm •
Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion said Friday he is open to “options for innovative funding” of road construction in Nebraska as he prepares to lead a series of hearings throughout the state on highway needs.
Smith, chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, said new options could include the possibility of public-private partnerships.
Hearings will begin Sept. 16 in Norfolk, where community leaders have been pushing for completion of the long-promised four-lane development of U.S. 275 from there to Omaha.
The committee will be in Scottsbluff Oct. 5 and 6 at hearings likely to center on accelerated development of the Heartland Expressway, a federally designated trade corridor that connects South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.
Other hearings are set for Grand Island, Oct. 1; Crete, Oct. 22; Bellevue, Nov. 12; and Lincoln, Dec. 3.
“We want to make certain we hear from various communities about infrastructure needs,” Smith said.
“And we very specifically want to establish priorities for infrastructure funding going forward,” he said, recognizing there are backlog, maintenance and expressway needs. “We need a clear understanding of our funding options.”
The Legislature voted to increase the state gasoline tax this year, he noted, and senators need to ask: “Is this an opportunity now for public-private partnerships in Nebraska?”
Smith, who sponsored the gas tax increase, said he is “not going into this with an agenda, but going in seeking input (with) everything on the table.”
The hearing in Crete is expected to focus on the large backlog of needs for bridge repairs statewide.
“Counties do not have enough money to take care of deficient bridges in their jurisdiction,” said Smith. “We need to determine how best to gather or pool money to address those priorities.”
The gas tax bill enacted over Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto will increase the fuel tax by 6 cents a gallon over four years.
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