Starr Lehl, Scottsbluff’s economic development director, has been named to an advisory committee that will envision how the state’s transportation system will change over the next 20 years.
The group, which includes members from across the state, has the long name Nebraska 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan Stakeholder Advisory Committee.
The group, which will meet over the next 14 months, was formed by the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) to update its Long Range Transportation Plan, as required by the Federal Highway Administration.
Lehl, who will represent the Panhandle area, will help refine the state’s transportation needs and priorities looking 20 years into the future.
“This is a very long-range plan for Nebraska,” Lehl said. “But if you’ve traveled to other states, a lot of them don’t take very good care of their highways and interstates.”
Lehl met a representative from NDOT during the latest annual meeting the Heartland Expressway in Kimball. Through that contact, she was appointed to the advisory committee.
She had emphasized that completion of the Heartland Expressway through Nebraska would be a great benefit for transporting farm commodities to markets in Canada and Mexico.
“Our area of western Nebraska sits right in the middle of that corridor,” Lehl said. “We already have a great east-west interstate corridor and completing the north-south route of the Heartland Expressway would help the state a lot.”
Still, the process of completing the Heartland Expressway will take time. North Dakota has made a lot of progress toward finishing their section. South Dakota has theirs almost completed. For Nebraska, funds have already been approved and plans drawn, but Lehl estimated it will take another 10 years to finish.
“We’ve come a long way since the Heartland Expressway was first proposed in the ‘90s,” she said. “We’ve completed the four-lane to Kimball and the state is working on the one to Alliance and the four-lane from Scottsbluff to Minatare and on to the Angora junction. They’re also talking about a super-two highway from Alliance through Chadron to the South Dakota border.”
Lehl said group meetings over the next 14 months will look at the inventory of the existing condition of the state’s transportation system to develop a statewide traffic model.
One of the big factors in what can be built going forward is the availability of funds. A lot of available monies will be used to rebuild eastern Nebraska’s highways from last spring’s devastating flooding.
While analyzing the state’s transportation for the next 20 years, the group will research what future influences might affect those needs.
“That’s a tough challenge because technology is always changing so I wonder what our transportation will look like in the future,” she said. “With electric cars we could have more charging stations than gas stations. And will we have driverless cars? That’s what excites me about this group. It’s fun to think about the future of transportation, but it’s also kind of scary.”
Not all technological changes are entirely positive. Lehl said that if electric cars become common in the future, the state’s current gas tax would dry up. Consequently the state would need to come up with new funding sources for our transportation system, perhaps one based on miles driven.
During the 14-month process, both stakeholders and the public will be encouraged to provide input into the final plan and recommendations, which will be forwarded the NDOT.