Omaha World-Herald. September 22, 2016
The right approach on bridge work.
It's good to see Nebraska moving ahead with a sensible strategy to boost the repair and maintenance of aging county bridges.
Stepping up repairs makes great sense in terms of public safety as well as economic need.
In a new program, Nebraska is partnering with local governments to fund repair work for county bridges that are at least 20 feet long.
Among the 435 county bridges of that size, 115 are considered structurally deficient by the state.
Gov. Pete Ricketts has announced that counties can now submit bridge-work proposals to qualify for $40 million in state matching grants, with a $150,000 maximum in state funding per project. Counties will need to provide a 45 percent match.
Localities can tailor the proposals based on a bridge's traffic level and safety record. That's a more flexible approach than in the past and in line with leeway already given state projects, while still meeting Nebraska safety standards.
This new grant program was developed by the Governor's Office and the Legislature as part of a broader, strategic initiative on Nebraska infrastructure needs. The $450 million Transportation Innovation Act directs $50 million of the state's cash reserve fund and about $400 million in future state gas tax revenue for expressway construction, bridge work and transportation-related economic development projects.
A key part of the program's funding will be a 6-cent increase in the gas tax, approved last year, to be implemented incrementally over four years.
Providing adequate infrastructure is one of the fundamental, and most expensive, obligations of government. To its credit, Nebraska has reached a practical way forward. Now it's up to the counties to submit sound projects. Let's keep it going.
McCook Gazette. September 23, 2016
Highway expansion welcome announcement for Southwest Nebraska.
Announcements Thursday in Lincoln and Friday in North Platte illustrate just how long major public works projects can take and how many people need to be involved.
Benefits of the highway projects announced will be felt for multiples of years by millions people more, however.
First proposed by Gov. Kay Orr in the 1980s, the Nebraska expressway system was championed by Sen. Deb Fischer when she was still a state senator and current Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Former McCook Mayor Linda Taylor has been a long-time advocate of expanding the highway from McCook to North Platte, joining Highway Commissioner Greg Wolford and a number of other local economic development advocates to the cause of better transportation to Interstate 80 and beyond.
It will likely be the better part of a decade before U.S. 83 begins being expanded into a Super 2, with regular passing lanes to allow slower traffic to give way.
Our state government chose a responsible route in funding the expressway system, first through the Build Nebraska Act championed by Sen. Fischer, and then by the Transportation Innovation Act, which was Gov. Ricketts' top legislative priority in2016.
The BNA set aside a quarter cent of existing Nebraska sales tax revenues for road construction, and the TIA commits funding from last year's gas tax hike to complete the expressway system originally envisioned by Gov. Orr.
Not only will the Super 2 make north-south travel more pleasant and efficient, but it should improve safety by allowing faster traffic to be on its way without risking head-on collisions with oncoming traffic.
Infrastructure like highways is one of the areas government can provide an important service in an efficient matter. It's gratifying that Southwest Nebraska is, in this case, receiving an appropriate share of state funding for some of that infrastructure.
Lincoln Journal Star. September 23, 2016
Zoo plan improved by public input.
Consultants of a certain ilk (Kenneth Blanchard is often given credit as the originator) are found of the saying "None of us is as smart as all of us."
Occasionally, it's true.
The evolving plan for expansion of the Lincoln Children's Zoo can be considered one prime example.
After various city committees, as well as residents who participated in public hearings and other forums for community feedback, got through with the original zoo proposal it bore little resemblance to the original.
By virtually all accounts, the revised plan is much improved, providing donors and taxpayers more bang for their buck.
Previously the plan called for the main zoo parking area to be south of A Street, requiring an expensive pedestrian bridge over A Street and a parking drive to cross the Rock Island Trail.
The new plan calls for all zoo parking to be north of A Street — no pedestrian bridge or trail crossing required.
Key to the change is moving the Parks and Recreation headquarters at 2740 A Street to make room for more parking closer to the zoo.
It turned out that City-County Health Department had an empty third floor in its building at 32nd and O streets. The cost of moving the park offices is estimated at $875,000. The cost of the pedestrian bridge alone was estimated at about $2.1 million.
The change already has won approval from the city-county Public Building Commission, which oversees all city and county property.
Work on the zoo expansion is scheduled to begin next spring, and probably will take about two years to complete, according to Zoo Director John Chapo. About $10 million to $12 million of the cost of the project will be paid by private donors.
The expansion will include new animal exhibits, restoration of the Ager building to its original use as part of the zoo and new activity areas that will be open all year. Jeff Maul of the Convention and Visitors Bureau noted that the zoo is already the third most-visited arts and cultural attraction in the state. Opening the zoo year-round might add another 30,000 visits a year, he said, adding to an economic boost already estimated at $8.7 million a year.
As the revised project took shape, compliments flowed.
"A great public-private partnership," said Nick Cusick, who leads fund-raising. "Another classic Lincoln partnership," said Mayor Chris Beutler. "It's a really, really nice fit," said Health Department Director Judy Halstead. "Benefits will be enormous," said Maul.
City Council approval will be required. Expect more praise to gush. The positivity is justified. The result proved, again, how smart it is to work together.
Kearney Hub. September 23, 2016
Only flood insurance covers losses from floods.
In the aftermath of this summer's devastating floods, it's becoming clear that a sense of false security or the urge to save a buck blinded thousands of Louisianans about the need to insure against flood damage.
There were 13 deaths and widespread destruction — more than 100,000 homes. The total economic cost could exceed $9 billion, but many homeowners didn't have flood insurance, according to Robert W. Klein, who teaches risk management and insurance at Georgia State University.
The premium for maximum coverage under a federal National Flood Insurance Program policy in a high-risk area can be $2,000 or more. The typical premium for a policy in a low-risk area is $400-$500, Klein said.
Homeowners who decide against flood insurance might be scared off by its cost or tell themselves they will never need it, but those could be critical, life-altering mistakes.
Among the 55 percent of homeowners who lost their homes near Baton Rouge, most lived in areas deemed to be low- to moderate-risk. The lesson from Louisiana is that anyone who lives close to a river, coastline or flood plain had better be educated about insurance. That's because regular homeowner's insurance doesn't cover damage from flooding, but flood insurance does.
Getting charged up
Kearneyites should be proud of the leadership at Kearney city hall with the rollout of the latest addition to the city's fleet of vehicles, an electric Ford Fusion. As a member of the Nebraska Community Energy Alliance, Kearney is among cities promoting a cleaner environment by adopting green technologies.
On Thursday, the city invited Kearneyites to test drive the Fusion and see the charging station behind city hall. The car and charging station will demonstrate that it's possible to help the environment and that a network of charging stations across the state eventually will increase the practicality of electric vehicles.
According to a city press release, the electric Ford already has saved $108 in fuel expenses and reduced carbon emissions by 970 pounds, compared to a gas-powered vehicle.
NCEA's 18 member communities own 24 electric vehicles and have 70 public charging stations. Group members also have nine compressed natural gas vehicles. Making up the NCEA are Wayne, Valley, Ashland, Gretna, Lincoln, Hastings, Kearney, South Sioux City, Wayne, Bellevue, Nebraska City, Seward, Holdrege, Lexington, Gothenburg, Omaha Public Power District, Dakota County and Allen Consolidated Schools.