Old town buildings in Angora leveled for highway expansion

ANGORA, Neb. — There’s no getting in the way of progress.

That’s become clear in the unincorporated panhandle town of Angora. Workers spent Monday leveling old buildings in the Morrill County community ahead of an expansion of the Heartland Expressway from two to four lanes.

According to the Nebraska State Historical Society, Angora was founded in 1900 by railroad companies. At one point, it had its own school district.

The highway expansion is a 14-mile, $32 million project that is expected to be finished by fall of next year.

Click the link for the full article: http://sandhillsexpress.com/state-news/old-town-buildings-in-angora-leveled-for-highway-expansion-ncnidstory43576251/?fbclid=IwAR1OmczbuqL6Bipjcq3dLo3QqqyD1KB-0xZQLcal4oVoUND4moZ5vcPaISE

Work on Next Heartland Expressway Segment to Begin Mid-March

Work is slated to start March 15 on the next segment of the Heartland Expressway on US-385 from the L62-A junction on Angora Hill 14 miles north to meet the existing four-lane highway to Alliance.

IHC-Scott, Inc., of Centennial, Colorado has the $32 million contract, with completion of that segment slated for fall of 2022.

NDOT District Five Engineer Doug Hoevet tells KNEB News once the work gets underway, weather permitting, the project will follow a process that area motorists will find familiar. “Folks are going to notice once they get in and start going, then there’s a pretty good progression,” said Hoevet. “The roadway itself will be built similar to the segment people are familiar with south of Alliance. A lot of the grading will happen on the new lanes, the new lanes will get paved, traffic will be switched to the new lanes and then the existing lanes will get addressed.”

Work scope includes a four-lane divided highway with a depressed grass median and will incorporate improvements to intersections, drainage structures, and lighting, with traffic to be maintained at a reduced speed in work areas.

Hoevet tells us vehicle counts have naturally risen over the years since the Expressway was first proposed, and once this next segment of roadway is complete, motorists should find traffic will flow much more smoothly in that area.

Click the link to view full article: https://kneb.com/regional-news/work-on-next-heartland-expressway-segment-to-begin-mid-march/

Bill Allowing Highway Bonds Could Speed Up Heartland Expressway Completion

The state highway commission could issue up to $400 million in bonds over the next six years to speed completion of the state’s expressway system under a bill considered March 3 by the Revenue Committee.

LB542, introduced by Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, would authorize the commission, upon recommendation of the state Department of Transportation, to issue bonds that would then be paid off by July 2040.

Proceeds from the sale of any bonds would be deposited in the department’s Highway Cash Fund to be used to accelerate completion of highway construction projects under the Build Nebraska Act, which includes the Heartland Expressway.

Walz said Nebraska’s pay-as-you-go model cannot meet its infrastructure needs, particularly in the case of the expressway system.

Click the link for full article: https://kneb.com/regional-news/bill-allowing-highway-bonds-could-speed-up-heartland-expressway-completion/

Heartland Expressway likely to see some expansion during 2021

A representative of the Heartland Expressway Association says there are plans to continue the highway project in the coming years.

Deb Cottier, whose regular job is with Dawes County’s Northwest Nebraska Development Corporation, told the Western Nebraska Economic Development group Thursday that the expressway is expected to see some expansion likely in 2021. Bids will be let in August for an extended section of four-lane road on U.S. Highway 385 south of Alliance to the L62A junction, commonly referred to as the “Bayard turnoff.”

Funds set aside beginning about six years ago from a portion of sales tax designated for highway use have been used to build a 10-mile section of four-lane highway from Alliance south on U.S. Highway 385. The next phase of expansion would extend the four-lane portion of that highway another 14.2 miles from the L62A junction to meet up with the existing four-lane portion.

The next section to be addressed would be an 18-mile section of L62A from Minatare to the junction sometime after 2023. That project would use federal funds for the $60 million project.

“That includes a huge, sweeping turn from 385 west,” Cottier said. “That has been engineered. They’re now in the process of starting to look at right-of-way acquisition on that L62A leg that goes past Bayard and hooks up at Minatare. We expect that will be a little difficult because there’s a couple of ditches you have to pass, there are significant businesses and ranches that are very close to the highway there, so that right-of-way acquisition is going to be a little tougher. However, they have been planning ahead far enough that people ought to at least know this is coming.”

If the L62A portion can be completed by 2029, then the state will look at improvements on Highway 385 north of Alliance to Chadron and the South Dakota border to make that stretch a “Super two” highway with passing lanes, broader shoulders and flattening of some curves and hills without actually building two more lanes.  TOP ARTICLES1/5READ MORELocal couple leads Scotts Bluff County Thunder in SpecialOlympics competition

“The last word we heard from both Doug Hoevet, who is the district engineer, as well as folks from Lincoln and Doug Leafgreen, the highway commissioner, is that that is still on the planning process,” Cottier said. “They will not commit to when that might happen because it is not in an area where there is enough traffic volume to really push the issue, but as an organization, our goal remains the same to have a four-lane divided highway all the way and we’re probably not going to give up until it happens.”

The Heartland Expressway began 25 years ago as a group hoping to bring a four-lane highway system from the Colorado border to the South Dakota border in the Panhandle. The Heartland Expressway would be a portion of a greater Ports-to-Plains highway system from Mexico to Canada. Cottier said the scope of the project has turned it into a “lifetime project.”

“We started looking at the benefit of having better access in the Scottsbluff/Gering area in particular to the Front Range of Colorado,” Cottier said. “There was some work done to make that highway better move people and freight and jobs and business and economies to and from Colorado. The four-lane highway system was sort of born out of discussions with South Dakota and with Colorado about moving freight north and south in an area where there is no north-south Interstate.”

In the early days, there were “demonstration funds” available from Congress where congressional representatives could essentially designate or “earmark” projects for funding. Those funds no longer exist, slowing the methods of funding. In the 1990s, the Nebraska Legislature passed a bill that would require all communities with a population of 25,000 or more to have four-lane access to an Interstate highway, however those funds dried up in the early 2000s as well and the project stalled.

“Essentially, the four-lane portion from Kimball to Scottsbluff was the first piece that was what the Legislature guaranteed would happen, and people thought, ‘Well, we’re done,’” Cottier said. “Well, the folks that live north of there and are between the four lane of Scottsbluff and South Dakota continued to work and continued to enjoy a relationship with the folks here in Scottsbluff and Gering to try to help move that along.”


HEA Responds to U.S. Department of Transportation’s RFI on ROUTES Initiative


  1. Identifying Unmet Needs in Rural Transportation

A. What infrastructure issues are contributing to high fatality rates on rural roadways and rail-highway grade crossings (e.g., roadway condition or geometry, driver behavior, wildlife collisions)?

The rural nature of Western Nebraska creates safety issues when the mix of traffic includes heavy agricultural harvest equipment, motorcycles (especially during the annual Sturgis rally), recreational vehicles, vacationers, sight-seeing visitors, normal amounts of truck traffic, movement of large mining equipment headed toward the Bakken in North Dakota. Add into that mix deer, antelope and elk populations and there is a great potential for accidents. Having wider, 4-lane divided highways gives everyone a better chance of safe driving. Weather also plays a large hole in safety issues in the winter months.

B.  What unique challenges do rural areas face related to infrastructure condition (e.g., age of infrastructure or equipment, including vehicles, bridge closures or postings, types of freight carried, weather resiliency)?

The sheer number of miles of road necessary (between population bases) is a unique challenge for NDOT to maintain safe conditions. Maintenance equipment must move further, cover more miles and be shared with other jurisdictions just to maintain the level we currently see. This does not leave much ‘resource’ remaining if we are to add miles. The extreme weather changes (temperature, moisture) makes it more difficult to maintain roadways. Especially heavy traffic during certain harvest seasons takes a heavy toll on the life of the roadways. The size of farming equipment has grown to the point it must be moved via semi-truck. They are sometimes overweight of posted weight restrictions (especially grain trucks).

C. How does infrastructure usage (e.g., access to public transportation, technology deployment) affect the lives of rural Americans?

There is little public transportation left in Western Nebraska. This severely limits the mobility of elderly populations. A small, regional routed bus is available for transport to various appointments (mostly medical in nature). Technology deployment has helped (telemedicine in particular), but is not be economically feasible if it has to be based on population. The regional, rural health network that has developed a fiber optic system in Western Nebraska is a good example of how collaborative efforts can benefit sparsely populated areas.

D. What types of infrastructure projects are most needed in rural communities to meet national transportation priorities such as safety and economic competitiveness?

The types of projects needed to meet national safety priorities center around fair, equitable access to market for commodities, ability to receive proper medical care and the access to trucking routes that serve the smaller, rural areas. Access to markets and access to goods being delivered is absolutely a lifeline, not just a convenience issue. Everything that comes to Chadron, Nebraska, for example, comes to us on a truck. Every grocery item, piece of lumber, hardware, vehicle, parts, etc. has to be brought here. The cost of that distance (freight) added on to the wholesale price creates an economic barrier to be overcome by our business people. We need 4-lane, divided highways to get commodities out and goods delivered in an efficient, cost effective way. This is critical to feeding the nation (and the world). If we want to maintain the low food prices we now enjoy, the heartland has to have safe, modern, efficient (4-lane) access to move agricultural commodities.

E. What types of rural transportation projects or services do rural communities find challenging to fund?

We believe every community in rural America finds it difficult to fund roads; whether it is maintenance or construction. This is something that must remain a federal responsibility and priority. In the rural, less populated areas, it is evident that Public Private Partnership simple do not work because there is not enough population base to create the ‘private’ part of that equation. Paying for aging bridges (both at a local and state level), or replacing those lost to floods is not possible from the local tax base.

F. What additional or alternative methods can be used to identify and prioritize rural transportation projects for funding through discretionary grants? We believe collaboration between states may hold some promise for getting projects finished, especially the ‘last few miles to the border’ locations. It has become a questions of who (which state) will commit to finishing their portion first. In the case of US Hwy 26 from Scottsbluff, NE to Torrington, WY each side of the border has less than 50 miles to finish 4 lane connections. But NDOT and WYDOT have both commented they will perhaps be more serious about finishing that mileage when the other state does their portion. Some sort of enticement (collaboration) could be in order. Perhaps just in the border situation, or more boldly, along a federally designated high priority corridor such as the Ports to Plains Alliance which exists from Canada to Mexico. Allowing ROUTES grants to be used to connect states could complete some areas that are waiting for the ‘other side’ to move.

  1. Addressing Unmet Needs Through DOT Discretionary Grant Programs
  2. What resources or direct assistance could DOT provide to support rural transportation projects or reach communities that may not be aware of DOT discretionary programs?

Resources needed to support rural communities could include ‘rural’ incentives, with an allowance for the more miles necessary to provide economic equity in the Heartland. There has also been a good deal of discussion about attempting to harmonize permitting between states. Again, collaboration can make trucking more efficient by allowing one permit application to be good throughout a specific corridor, regardless of crossing state borders. That alone would divert traffic from existing, overused roadways to less established truck routes. If the Ports to Plains Corridor was 4-lane through all 8 states, and had a single source permit system, we would see tremendous economic benefit in Nebraska from the increased truck traffic. Having specialists within DOT or each state who can coordinate and assist DOT’s with the application would be helpful, as well a system by which states could have access to ‘best practices’ examples of funded projects to review.

 B.        What challenges do rural communities face when applying for DOT grants and financial assistance (e.g., project prioritization, eligibility requirements, funding match)?

Rural communities not having the required population have a much more difficult time writing a successful federal grant application.  At least a portion of the grant funds could be designated (through the state DOT) for rural or low populated regions. Again, if grants could be prioritized or given additional points for state to state collaboration, there may be additional impact of finishing longer stretches of roadway within high priority corridors.

   C.         What types of technical assistance would be effective for navigating the application process?

An experienced DOT person available for each community to consult with before submitting a grant would be helpful. Those states that have a Congressional member sitting on a transportation related committee could be a source, but not all states are that lucky. If the Congressional member’s support is needed, it should be available regardless of the state’s political connection. This could be addressed by re-implementing elected officials’ ‘demonstration project’ where they could designate each year, something innovative that they wish to support.

Democrats announce agreement with Trump on North American trade pact

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday announced agreement on a modified North American trade pact, handing President Donald Trump a major Capitol Hill win on the same day that Democrats announced their impeachment charges against him.

The California Democrat said the revamped U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement is a significant improvement over the original North American Free Trade Agreement, crediting Democratic negotiators for winning stronger provisions on enforcing the agreement.

“There is no question of course that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA,” Pelosi said in announcing the agreement, saying the pact is “infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration.”

Trump said the revamped trade pact will “be great” for the United States.

“It will be the best and most important trade deal ever made by the USA. Good for everybody – Farmers, Manufacturers, Energy, Unions – tremendous support. Importantly, we will finally end our Country’s worst Trade Deal, NAFTA!,” the president said in a tweet.

In Mexico City, Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said Monday night that there would be a meeting of the three countries’ negotiating teams Tuesday “to announce the advances achieved” on the trade agreement. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is slated to appear.

The announcement came on the same morning that Democrats outlined impeachment charges against Trump. The pact is Trump’s top Capitol Hill priority along with funding for his long-sought border fence.

Pelosi is the key congressional force behind the accord, which updates the 25-year-old NAFTA accord, which many Democrats — especially from manufacturing areas hit hard by trade-related job losses — have long lambasted.

Pelosi has negotiated with the administration extensively to win stronger enforcement provisions. Her efforts have appeared to build support among Democrats  TOP ARTICLES1/2READ MORESen. McCollister launches tweet storm overpro-impeachment talk; state GOP leaders back Trump

“There are those who I read about in one place or another that say, ‘why would you give President Trump a victory?'” Pelosi said Monday night at a Wall Street Journal event for corporate executives. “Well, why wouldn’t we? This is the right thing to do for our trade situation, for our workers.”

NAFTA eliminated most tariffs and other trade barriers involving the United States, Mexico and Canada. Critics, including Trump, labor unions and many Democratic lawmakers, branded the pact a job killer for the United States because it encouraged factories to move south of the border, capitalize on low-wage Mexican workers and ship products back to the U.S. duty free.

Weeks of back-and-forth, closely monitored by Democratic labor allies such as the AFL-CIO, have brought the two sides together. Pelosi is a longtime free trade advocate and supported the original NAFTA in 1994. Trump has accused Pelosi of being incapable of passing the agreement because she is too wrapped up in impeachment.

The original NAFTA badly divided Democrats but the new pact is more protectionist and labor-friendly, and Pelosi is confident it won’t divide the party, though some liberal activists took to social media to carp at the agreement.

“You don’t have to have unanimity, you just have to have consensus.” Pelosi said. “Once we go down that path we’ll be OK.”

“She worked to try and make sure people are making it better, make sure there aren’t people spun up,”said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., calling the new accord “a better end result.”

Republicans leaders and lawmakers have agitated for months for the accord but Pelosi has painstakingly worked to bring labor on board. Democrats see the pact as significantly better than NAFTA and an endorsement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka could be the key to winning significant Democratic support.

The pact contains provisions designed to nudge manufacturing back to the United States. For example, it requires that 40% to 45% of cars eventually be made in countries that pay autoworkers at least $16 an hour — that is, in the United States and Canada and not in Mexico.

The trade pact picked up some momentum after Mexico in April passed a labor-law overhaul required by USMCA. The reforms are meant to make it easier for Mexican workers to form independent unions and bargain for better pay and working conditions, narrowing the gap with the United States.

The end-stage talks focused on provisions to improve the enforcement of the accord.

By Andrew Taylor, Associated Press via Omaha World Herald

See full article here: https://www.omaha.com/news/national/govt-and-politics/democrats-announce-agreement-with-trump-on-north-american-trade-pact/article_ce81c052-a36f-5317-86b3-197430f088e7.html

COTTIER: Update on the Alliance South portion of the Heartland Expressway project

While it seems little is happening along the expressway since the opening of the north half of the two-part project to create a four-lane divided highway on US 385 from the junction of NE Hwy 2 south to the junction with L62A, NDOT has informed the Heartland Expressway Association (HEA) board that work continues to be done. “While people will not see construction work, this does not mean the project has been halted. In fact, work continues on the project and the project is on schedule. Several utility relocations have occurred, our current efforts are focused on the NEPA re-evaluation, and we are confident everything will be ready before the letting date of August 26, 2021. The project’s current estimate is over $36 million, which by way of comparison, is more than District 5’s annual construction allocation. Of course, the $18,263,743 in INFRA grant money certainly helps the project,” said Doug Hoevet, District 5 engineer from Gering, Nebraska.

There is a false assumption that since the second phase of the project was approved, and we got an unexpected $18 million grant, that things would move more quickly, following the first phase. There is nothing ‘quick’ about building roads. A NEPA (federal requirements to protect endangered species and other environmental concerns) re-evaluation takes time. Engineering takes time. Right-of-way acquisition takes time, and all of that has to be done before you can submit bid requests. That is why the letting date is not until August 2021. We all wish it would move more quickly, but rules have to be followed.

What can be said is that the current administrative folks at NE Department of Transportation (NDOT) have been truthful, open and collaborative during the process. Whenever there is a question, Director Schneweis has responded quickly. When rumors began to fly during the flooding that certain projects would suffer or be put on hold to divert funds to eastern Nebraska, Director Schneweis and his staff said that couldn’t be further from the truth. NDOT is to be commended for the way (and in the timeframe) they responded to 100s of miles of roads that had to be rebuilt after the floods. The speed with which they assisted in getting estimates together and submitted to FEMA for disaster designation was nothing short of heroic, in our opinion. And that assured the federal money would flow more quickly to the areas in the most need, thus causing less disruption in scheduled projects in the rest of the state.

The Board of Directors of the Heartland Expressway Association continues to represent all the communities along the route, communicates frequently with state and federal officials and advocates for the best, most efficient completion of the four-lane highway system. We will continue to do that on behalf of our members.

Deb Cottier is the Chairman of the Heartland Expressway Association Board of Directors.



Washington, D.C. – America’s rural transportation system is in need of repairs and modernization to support economic growth in the nation’s Heartland, which is a critical source of energy, food and fiber. With increases in population and growing employment, rural America is heavily reliant on the quality of its transportation system to sustain further growth. This is according to a new report released today by TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit. The report, Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America’s Heartland, evaluates the safety and condition of the nation’s rural roads and bridges and finds that the nation’s rural transportation system is in need of immediate improvements to address deficient roads and bridges, high crash rates, and inadequate connectivity and capacity. The chart below shows the states with the highest rate of rural pavements in poor condition, states with the highest share of rural bridges that are rated poor/structurally deficient, and states with the highest fatality rates on non-Interstate, rural roads. – follow the link for the full article.


The Heartland Expressway sees tweaks in its construction

PANHANDLE, Neb. – (KNEP) – The Heartland Expressway project continues to push forward but sees some tweaks along the way.

According to the Board of Director’s President Deb Cottier the project doesn’t have a specific timetable for completion. With that said, they are in a much different spot now than five years ago.

The board cut the ribbon on a portion of the highway south of Alliance last summer and looks to have the rest of it leading to Bayard complete by 2020.

While working a strong partnership with the Nebraska Department of Transportation, the board received an $18.3 million dollar grant to continue working on the project.

Cottier mentioned the South Dakota portion connecting to Nebraska was finished but work still needs to be done to connect to the North Dakota portion. The Heartland Expressway remains part of the Ports-to-Plains project that will connect Canada to Mexico through the U.S. and allow for more commodities and goods to be exported out.

With that said, the state at one point looked at getting an interstate designation. Nebraska is the only state to not have a highway that goes north to south and as Cottier states very few go through a city. The Heartland Expressway which runs through cities would pose a problem if the board ventured for the interstate designation.

Cottier mentioned, the first is the need to create bypasses and while posing an impact on the community. The second included restrictions to farmers by forcing them to have to find alternative routes to transport their equipment and goods.

In the end, the board felt they should stick to what they originally were looking for which was to get four-lane highways. To their dismay, one portion won’t see a four-lane road anytime soon.

The 385 portion heading from Alliance north to the state border will be a super-two highway. This is a normal two lane highway with portions of it having a third lane to allow for more traffic. Cottier added they will have to show traffic numbers to NDOT to prove the road should be a four-lane highway.

For now, construction will continue on the existing plans to connect the panhandle to the surrounding states and help improve the economy.

Reposted from NBC Nebraska – Will Wodka reporting, Monday, February 11, 2019