'Really an Important Bill for Nebraska': Chamber Leaders Discuss How the Infrastructure Bill Will Impact the State

Nov. 17, 2021, 11:30 a.m. ·

Nebraska Roads 2
The most money will be headed toward roads – at $2.2 billion. (Photo by Hilary Stohs-Krause, Nebraska Public Media News)

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Chamber of Commerce leaders from the state and nation discussed Wednesday how Nebraska could benefit from the hard infrastructure bill recently passed by Congress. Those Chamber leaders believe the state could see projects during the next construction season.

In all, Nebraska will receive $3 billion in funding from the federal government in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – or IIJA. Among the top priorities from the Chamber include Nebraska roads, bridges, broadband and airports. The most money will be headed toward roads – at $2.2 billion.

“Roads and highways are our core infrastructure for what really makes Nebraska's economy run," said Bryan Slone, who added the state's top industries – agriculture, manufacturing and transportation – are dependent on those roads.

Bryan Slone headshot. He is dressed in a dark suit and red tie with a brick wall and part of a window behind him.
Bryan Slone (Courtesy photo)

The Chamber of Commerce will not have any part in spending the billions of dollars, as that will be done by state government leaders.

Estimates from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce say 9% of Nebraska bridges are in poor condition. Another $225 million will be headed toward those. Money slated for broadband is another key area that excites Slone, who points out that 13% of the state's population lack high-speed access. The state will also be getting $111 million for Nebraska’s nine regional airports.

David Brown, president and CEO of the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, said Omaha's Epley Airfield needs updating and expanding.

"We’re all looking at this airport and saying: ‘It is time because it’s such a busy place and, it’s growing by leaps and bounds,'" he said.

All of this money fits into the Nebraska Chamber’s bigger picture in growing the state by attracting younger people. Brown said the future with his region and the rest of the state is one reason why the hard infrastructure bill is so important.

“We need to be able to attract and retain people," Brown said. "And that means having infrastructure in place that allows them to move around as freely as they need to."

In addition, Brown said he's had discussions but does not know of any concrete plans for equity projects in Omaha that would reconnect historically black neighborhoods that were split up by interstates.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Nebraska will receive the following money:

  • Roads: $2.2 billion in highway funding
  • Bridges: $225 million to replace and repair bridges
  • Broadband: $100 million to the state to upgrade internet access
  • Drinking/Wastewater: $358 million to improve water infrastructure across the state
  • Airports: $111 million for Nebraska's nine major airports
  • Resiliency: $16.8 million for fire resiliency, and $12.7 million to protect against cyberattacks
  • Transit: $186 million to improve public transportation options across the state

Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said this spending will catch Nebraska and the rest of the country up on current infrastructure needs. He said supply chain backlogs and workforce shortages could impact the timeline of completing these infrastructure projects, however.

In an ideal world for Bradley and other Chamber leaders, the federal government will spend more on these projects every few years. "I think the most important thing is that we not repeat the mistakes of the past," he said.