Advocate on Expressway Expansion: 'We Could Do Better' Listening to Rural Voices

Feb. 14, 2020, 6:45 a.m. ·

(Credit: Nebraska Department of Transportation)

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Advocates are pushing the Nebraska Department of Transportation to prioritize completing the state expressway system. Learn about that effort and other rural transportation issues on the latest episode of Speaking of Nebraska.

The effort to convert 600 miles of 2-lane highways into four lanes began in 1988. Three decades later, about 160 miles remains.

Gina Cotton is Executive Director of 4 Lanes 4 Nebraska. She says the potential for economic development is huge.

"You’ll have people coming into our state rather than bypassing our state," Cotton said. "[Interstate 81] is a Pan-American highway from Canada to South America — look at the traffic that can come through our state."

But Cotton says safety is another major consideration.

"I pull that fatality report every morning," Cotton said. "[In 2020] we have 18 deaths across the state of Nebraska: 4 are urban and 14 are rural."

That disparity has been true for at least the past five years in Nebraska, and is true nationwide as well.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 46% of the nation's highway fatalities occur on rural roads even though only one-fifth of the nation's population lives in rural areas.

NDOT says all of the remaining work is funded for either construction or planning. Cotton says her concern is that the money could get shifted to other projects.

Watch: Speaking of Nebraska | Rural Transportation