Work is well underway to repair flood-damaged state highways, with many of them expected to be completely restored by the end of the year.
Representatives from the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) held an open house at Northeast Community College in Norfolk on Wednesday afternoon to show the public the progress made since the historic floods in mid-March.
Kyle Schneweis, director of the department, said that, in some cases, crews are working as much as 12 hours a day to repair about 200 miles of state highways, including 27 damaged or destroyed bridges.
Only about five miles of highway remain closed now, but 11 bridges still have to be replaced.
“We hope to have every project finished and open to traffic by the end of the year,” Schneweis said. “Hopefully, the weather holds off and we can be out throughout the fall.”
Area projects the department is repairing currently include bridge repairs on Highway 12 near Niobrara, Highway 13 near Hadar, Highway 57 near Stanton, Highway 94 near Pender, Highway 116 near Dixon and Highway 121 near Yankton.
Schneweis said the bridge repairs and replacements are the most impactful.
“You might not have another crossing for 20 miles and some have detours that could be as much as 70 miles long,” he said.
For most of the roads, 80 percent of the cost of repairs will be reimbursed by the federal government, with the remaining 20 percent to be covered by the state.
Schneweis said the state has calculated that the damage to state highways is about $146 million. That leaves the department responsible for about $30 million, he said.
“A $150 million pill to swallow right before construction season is pretty tough,” Schneweis said. “But we’ve been lucky to have great support from the federal government and the Federal Highway Administration.”
The total cost presented by the NDOT at Wednesday’s briefing doesn’t include the costs that will have to be paid by city and county governments across the state. According to the state, about $30 million in federal aid will be available to municipal and county roads.
One issue in repairing the damages from floods has been hiring private contractors to do the work.
Schneweis said that out of all the steps involved, securing contractors has been among the most difficult.
“We’ve had several projects put for bids that received only one bid, and some that received zero,” he said. “We’ve called on our contractors that we trust, that are good, Nebraska companies and asked what we can do to get these done. And they’ve stepped up.”
Contractors have been hired for all but two area projects, which are bridge repairs on Highway 121 and Highway 94.
While the flood damage has put a strain on the transportation department’s time and available resources, most planned projects are expected to continue on schedule, including the expansion of Highway 275 from Norfolk to Scribner.
“We’ve been able to manage the flow of cash in a way that we don’t need to make any project cuts or changes,” Schneweis said.
While a portion of the Highway 275 construction has been delayed because of intervention by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Schneweis said the project is expected to turn dirt in 2020.
The southern portion of construction between West Point and Scribner must be evaluated by the Corps because of potential environmental impacts on wetlands along the highway’s path, and Schneweis said permits likely won’t be granted until late 2020 at the earliest.
But the northern portion, which is not under federal environmental review, can begin as expected next year, Schneweis said, as the state works to apply for grants and finish preliminary work on that portion of the highway.