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A highway dilemma

October 13, 2018

After the initial plans drawn up for dealing with Highway 12 near Niobrara were rejected, representatives of the Nebraska Department of Transportation — to their credit — went back to the drawing board.

The hope was that the second time around, the department’s plans would generate more support — or, at least, acceptance — from Niobrara and area residents.

But that isn’t proving to be the case — and for good reason.

In the summer of 2016, the department unveiled its proposed road construction project that had a price tag of about $215 million.

The end result would have been an improved highway but at a significant and costly inconvenience to those who live and work in the area.

The transportation department recognized that, threw out the plan and started from scratch.

A few weeks ago, a new proposal was put forth for 12-13 miles of a new highway on both sides of Niobrara at a reduced cost of $160 million.

Many times, when the residents of a community are presented with the possibility of a new highway being built, they’re all in favor.

But this is a different kind of situation. One the primary concerns is that any kind of construction project would result in closure of the existing road, detours around Niobrara for several years and a resulting loss of business for local companies and significant inconvenience for local and area residents.

What’s more, some aren’t even sure why a new road is being considered. “My big question is why is the state replacing this road?” asked Tom Bartak of Santee at a recent public meeting. “I drove both sections of Highway 12 last night and I found nothing wrong with it.”

Understandably, the transportation department is taking a long-term view and wants to create a solution that will last for many years. But it undoubtedly understands the concerns and objections of Niobrara residents. It’s their livelihood that could be impacted.

“Tourism drives our town,” said Mark Simpson. “We lost businesses when the flood occurred in 2011 and those businesses didn’t come back. This proposal will kill us. You are messing with people’s lives.”

We’d encourage the transportation department to go back to the drawing board again.

Even if it costs a bit more, finding a solution that doesn’t so drastically affect those who live and work in Niobrara should be the goal.

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