LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska counties with dilapidated bridges can start applying for new state funding to cover the repairs as early as next month, state officials announced Tuesday.
State officials outlined the selection criteria for their new match program and announced they will start seeking proposals in October. Gov. Pete Ricketts identified the program as one of his top priorities during this year’s legislative session.
The program shows “that we as a state are going to help counties invest in their infrastructure” which in turn will boost their local economies, Ricketts said at a news conference.
Department of Roads Director Kyle Schneweis said roughly 40 percent of Nebraska’s 11,000 county bridges are at least 50 years old. State and county officials collaborated to create a program that meets both of their needs, Schneweis said.
“It’s really a great day for transportation in our state,” Schneweis said.
The match program will cover 55 percent of a project’s repair costs, up to $150,000 per bridge. The law passed this year provides up to $40 million through 2023. Schneweis said work on the initial county bridge projects will begin next spring.
The county bridge program is part of a larger roads package intended to accelerate work on long-delayed highway projects. Lawmakers voted to withdraw $50 million from the state’s cash reserve to jump-start the work, and another $400 million will come from the state’s gas tax between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2033. Farm and ranching groups endorsed the proposal, saying their members need the roads to transport their goods to market.
The department will select projects based on a range of criteria, including long-term maintenance savings for a county and how easily an idea can be applied to other projects. Proposals will compete for funding within each of five districts to ensure the money is distributed throughout the state.
In addition, funding will only go to bridges that are longer than 20 feet and have been deemed “structurally deficient” as of Aug. 16. Bridges on minimum maintenance roads aren’t eligible. Neither are projects that were previously advertised for construction bids.
The problem is particularly severe in Saunders County, an area just west of Omaha that relies heavily on farming. Of the 435 county bridges that are least 20 feet long, 115 are considered structurally deficient, said Highway Superintendent Steve Mika.
Mika said most have deteriorated because of old age, and the county can’t keep pace with the needs. He said he hopes the funding will help the county fix an additional 10 bridges over the next six years that otherwise would have languished.
“I’m just happy we’ve now got a program in place that’s going to get us a little closer” to meeting the need, Mika said. “It won’t solve all of the problems, but it sure helps. I’ll take anything I can get.”