LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Lincoln officials have completed a key phase of a decades-old freeway project, pushing the city closer to construction.

State and local leaders finished the environmental impact phase Thursday for the South Beltway project. The completion allows the state to greenlight final design and remaining right-of-way purchases, the Lincoln Journal Star reported .

The South Beltway intends to divert heavy truck traffic through Lincoln's city limits.

"It is a proud day at the department," said Kyle Schneweis, director of the Nebraska Department of Transportation. "A lot of blood and sweat and tears has gone into the project."

The completed milestone keeps the 11-mile (17.7-kilometer) freeway project on schedule for construction to begin in 2020, according to Jeni Campagna, the department's spokeswoman. Work could extend five to seven years.

Preliminary conversations with landowners along the South Beltway corridor could start later this year, according to Campana.

"The South Beltway is the largest and one of the most complex projects the state has undertaken," Schneweis said.

The project stalled between 2008 and 2013 because funding was unavailable. But the 2011 Build Nebraska Act divided a quarter-cent of the state sales tax to fund highway improvements, including the South Beltway.

The four-lane highway is anticipated to cost about $300 million to build. Funding for the project includes $30 million from the city, $20 million from the Railroad Transportation Safety District and $25 million from a federal TIGER grant.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com