COLUMBUS — A study on expanding U.S. Highway 81 from two to four lanes has financial backing from the county.
The Platte County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to kick in funding for an impact study on expanding a stretch of the highway from south of Columbus to York, per the request of 4 Lanes 4 Nebraska.
The board was approached during its regular meeting by Josh Moenning, executive director of the advocacy group that is comprised of industry and business representatives pushing for the modernization of Nebraska’s transportation infrastructure. The group wants to accelerate the expansion of the state’s expressway system, including completing four-lane projects on highways 81 and 275.
The study will cost $15,000 and three counties — Platte, York and Polk — are being asked to pitch in $5,000 each to cover the costs. York and Polk counties were targeted because that is where the highway expansion hasn’t been completed.
The group already has been successful in getting an impact study done on Highway 275, and Moenning said the study on Highway 81 will be similar.
Linking Nebraska communities to an expressway system by constructing four-lane highways that connect them to Interstate 80 is a project that first started in 1988. Of the more than 600 miles in that system, about 170 miles are still unfinished decades later
Moenning said two major portions of the unfinished work are expanding 48 miles of Highway 275 from east of Norfolk to northwest of Fremont and the 43 miles of Highway 81 from York to 7 miles south of Columbus.
Finishing the expressway system is not only an overdue obligation by the state, Moenning said, but it could have a positive economic impact on the state and provide safer travel. According to the Highway 275 study, an expansion to four lanes would add more than $145 million to the state’s gross domestic product each year. The study also shows that converting to four lanes from two lanes reduces accidents, on average, by 40-60 percent.
York County already agreed to give financial support to the study and Moenning said Polk County will be asked, as well. When funding is secured, the study will start right away and results could be ready before the end of the year to share with state lawmakers.
The Platte County board voted 5-2 to support the study, with Supervisors Jerry Micek and Ron Pfeifer voting against the motion because they didn’t feel the study would have a big impact on getting the stretch of highway finished.