Search for road dollars slows work in Nebraska

| 11/21/2006

Transportation officials in Nebraska have told lawmakers they are considering delaying work on expressway projects and slowing progress on widening Interstate 80 to six lanes between Lincoln and Omaha because of funding concerns. About 20 projects that were in line for funding during the current fiscal year already have been postponed.

John Craig, director of the Nebraska Roads Department, said the agency projects a growing gap between revenue and the state's road-building plan. It is estimated that during the next two decades the gap will average $285 million annually, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

To cope with the funding gap, department officials are reviewing the criteria used to determine which road projects get done and in what order they're completed. Currently, the state decides highway projects based on such factors as traffic, safety issues, national standards and road conditions.

The proposed changes would place top priority on maintaining existing roadways. At the same time, several road construction or widening projects would be put on the back burner or dropped entirely, the World-Herald reported.

The changes are needed because of an expected 15 percent drop in funding during the next two fiscal years, Craig said. He said the funding level will fall from $390 million last fiscal year to $330 million in fiscal year 2008.

Fewer funds for roads are blamed on a dip in fuel tax revenue as consumers try to conserve fuel. Sales tax collections from motor vehicle sales also are down.

Meanwhile, road construction and maintenance costs are on the rise because of higher prices for oil, steel and concrete.

Craig said the growing popularity of entering into public-private partnerships to get needed road work completed isn't likely to aid the state. He cited the state's low population, which makes any partnerships unlikely.