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Area man drives home support for highway expansion

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LINCOLN — Randolph’s city administrator threw his support behind a legislative bill that would prioritize expanding Highway 81 and Highway 20 into four-lane expressways.

Ben Benton, at the request of Sen. Tim Gragert of Creighton, testified in support of LB1274 in front of the Nebraska Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee Monday afternoon.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, would require the Department of Transportation to plan, design and purchase rights of way to expand Highway 81 into four lanes from Norfolk to Yankton, S.D., and also Highway 20 to the Iowa border.

Right now, the Department of Transportation has Highway 81 expansion on its radar but doesn’t project any movement for a decade or more.

In his remarks, Benton called the expressway system paramount to the success of Northeast Nebraska and was impressed that Highway 20 was included in the bill.

“Providing four lane continuity ... would greatly improve safety for daily commuter traffic, increase capacity for commercial and agricultural traffic, and boost opportunities for tourism and economic development in Randolph and Northeast Nebraska,” Benton said. “As a city administrator, I wear many hats but the largest one is recruiter - recruiting of people, families, as well as business and industry. Recruiting is the only way for small towns to survive let alone thrive.”

Transportation infrastructure is a huge factor for anyone considering making the move to Randolph, he said, and access to an expressway would compliment the city’s departure from its Flood Plain Designation.

Another supporter, Kent Grisham, president of the Nebraska Trucking Association, also indicated gratitude for Highway 20 being included in the bill.

“No where is Highway 20 more important in Nebraska than where it intersects Highway 81,” he said due to the Central Valley Ag that supports a regional hub with agricultural traffic from Norfolk, Yankton, Columbus, Wayne, O’Neill and South Sioux City.

The bill was opposed by the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) who was represented at the committee hearing by John Selmer.

Selmer said the NDOT has a complex process of assessing and selecting projects with the greatest need.

“NDOT is well aware of the disappointment many feel regarding the speed or lack thereof,” he said.

He said of the $630 million budget more than 70 percent is spent on just maintaining current infrastructure.

“Just throwing money at it doesn’t get you the effected desire that you want,” adding that the process is riddled with built-in delays with required studies and public input.

The same day, the Department of Transportation opposed Flood’s bill that would affect Cedar County, it supported a proposal from Sen. Lynn Walz of Fremont to authorize it to enter into publicprivate partnerships in an effort to speed up highway construction.

Flood urged the committee to see the bill as a creative solution.

“This is a chance to be super visionary,” he said.