There’s now encouraging news regarding the expansion of the remaining segment of Highway 275 into a four-lane expressway — but only after Northeast Nebraskans weren’t shy about letting their elected and appointed representatives know of their frustrations.
For a time last year, it appeared that any news about Highway 275 was going to be the proverbial “same old story” — delays, delays and more delays.
The biggest concern was the announcement by the Army Corps of Engineers that it would require an Environmental Impact Statement addressing the presence of wetlands along a segment of the highway from north of West Point to south of Scribner. The work — even at what the Corps calls its accelerated pace — would take at least two years to complete.
In the meantime, the oft-repeated pronouncements by Gov. Pete Ricketts and others that dirt would be turned on the highway project in 2019 looked to be quickly becoming a fantasy.
To be sure, the governor and Kyle Schneweis, the director of the Nebraska Department of Transportation, were just as disappointed and frustrated over the Corps’ decision as Northeast Nebraskans were.
But to their credit, state officials — with the encouragement of the 4 Lanes 4 Nebraska industry coalition — found a way to maintain momentum.
Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning said the state would soon be accepting “Requests for Qualifications” for design and environmental work on the western portion of Highway 275 — Norfolk to West Point.
In addition, the mayor said Mr. Schneweis reaffirmed the state’s commitment to the project and to working with Corps officials to find aggressive and innovative ways to streamline the process: “We were assured funding for the Scribner to West Point segment will remain available and progress on the project seen in 2019.”
In the coming year, for example, the transportation department will select a design-build contractor and begin the right-of-way process. Additionally, state engineers are working to satisfy the Corps’ environment statement requirement while laying groundwork to begin construction at the earliest date possible.
Having the state start work on the western segment of Highway 275, indeed, is a significant positive step. So is the willingness of the state to seek out new federal sources of funding for the project.
One can’t become complacent, however, because delays and road blocks still could emerge. But there’s definitely reason to feel better about the status of the project now.