The Heartland Expressway has been a vision for nearly three decades. The goal was to create a four-lane highway connecting Denver to Rapid City in order to stimulate economic growth in the Heartland.
On June 23, the Heartland Expressway board held its annual meeting in Torrington, to discuss the progress made and what’s coming in the next phase.
“We are currently awaiting the actual start of the construction on the next phase, which has been approved, bid out and all of the environmental done,” said Deb Cottier, Nebraska Northwest Development Corporation and Heartland Expressway board treasurer.
This phase will be to convert the two-lane highway from Alliance, south on Highway 385 to the L62A junction, otherwise known as the Bayard turn off, into a four-lane.
“It’s actually what they call a two-plus-two,” Cottier said. “In other words, they are taking the two existing lanes and adding two more lanes to create a four-lane divided highway.”
“The other thing that we are very excited about is that there are additional funds available now and new road building processes through what is referred to as the Transportation Innovation Act,” Cottier said.
The act, known as LB960, created additional revenue that is dedicated to new highway construction. The bill also implemented a more cost-effective and efficient way to build highways, called design-build, which is a project delivery system used in construction where the design and construction is contracted by the same company.
Funds are also dedicated to a matching fund for cities and counties.
“Ultimately it helps the counties and communities, but it also then doesn’t further deplete the overall highway fund,” Cottier said.
The potential financial impact from LB960 is $450 million to fund roads and highways.
Cottier said, “The first priority for those new funding streams will be the existing expressway system in Nebraska.”
Legislation, passed 20 years ago, decided that any community of 10,000 or more, should be connected to the interstate highway system by a four-lane highway.
“There are parts of that system across the state that have languished since,” Cottier said. “The funding mechanism will take care of those highway issues first, but the important piece to remember, is because the Heartland Expressway is a federally designated high priority corridor, it also qualifies for those funds.”
Kyle Schneweis, Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) Director, implemented a better process for individuals and organizations to have an opportunity to provide input on how NDOR selects which roads are going to be built when.
“The new director saw very quickly that there needed to be a new process, by which NDOR got input from the public,” Cottier said. ”The most exciting piece of that, as an economic developer, is to include criteria that looks at the economic impact of the project. What happens when you build it? Will that create the opportunity for a community to attract, keep and expand a business? Therefore improving their economy? That’s really been the basis of the Heartland Expressway project from day one.”
The board believes that improving the highway transportation infrastructure will allow communities to better capture business that is passing them by. It will also attract new business from those who took a different route because of interstate or four-lane highways.
At the end of 2009, Heartland Expressway became a member of the Ports-to-Plains 10 state alliance, which is devoted to creating an economic development corridor from Canada to Mexico.
“The Ports-to-Plains Alliance plans and hosts a fly-in to Washington, D.C., every year. We go to D.C. along with our partners from the 10 state region, and we speak to every senator and congressperson who will make an appointment with us from those 10 states,” Cottier said. “That’s our opportunity to continue to push for what we believed was important to be included in the highway bill.”
The Heartland Expressway Association, in conjunction with Ports-to-Plains, was able to include most of their important issues addressed in the new FAST Act which was signed into law on December 4, 2015.
“We think this is a very important year and a very good year for measurable progress in Nebraska,”Cottier said. “We just only hope that they’re going to be turning dirt pretty quick up in Alliance.”
Construction on Highway 385 is expected to begin within the next 30 days and to be completed over the course of the next two years.