New type of turn proposed for busy intersection

September 26, 2018

HUMPHREY — One fix is quicker and easier. The other will take time and is more expensive.

The Nebraska Department of Transportation recently hosted a second stakeholders’ meeting this month on how to make the intersection of highways 81 and 91 safer.

The meeting was by invitation only at Pillen Family Farms-Humphrey office. About 20 attended, including about six from the roads department.

State Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus said two alternatives have emerged.

The quickest, cheapest fix for 81-91 is implementing what’s known as a “J Turn” at the intersection. The more expensive plan includes construction of entry and exit ramps off the highway.

“Basically, the department of transportation is pushing the J Turn,” Schumacher said. “Traffic comes to a roadblock in the middle of 81, so 91 traffic can’t go through. So they (motorists on Highway 91) make a right-hand turn and go about a quarter mile and make a U-turn,” Schumacher said.

He said the roads department indicated that the J Turn is less expensive and can be done more quickly.

“They were saying this is cheaper, and we can get it done so much faster, therefore we can start saving lives immediately. The other thing (entry and exit ramps) will take years and a lot more money,” he said.

The J Turn will cost about $1.5 million and could be done next year.

He said roads department officials said if the J Turn is built, they would continue to analyze the intersection to determine if it is working or more needs to be done.

“My guess is if they go through with this J Turn ... it’ll be a decade or two before anything else is considered to do it the right way.”

Schumacher said a J Turn seemed dangerous to some in attendance.

“There were some who operate semi trucks scratching their head wondering how you make a right-hand turn to head south on 81, shift over lanes of traffic, flip a U (turn) — particularly if there are two or three semis in a row — without creating a mess,” he said. “But they had a computer simulation that showed it works slick.”

He said the roads department also had a good diagram of what the intersection would look like with entry and exit ramps and an overpass. But it would cost $15 million and take years to design and build.

The public will get a chance to weigh-in on making 81-91 safer in the fall.

Schumacher said the J Turn is not a done deal at this point. If the J Turn is built, it’ll be the only one in the state. The roads department said they currently exist in other states.

“This is one of the more dangerous intersections in the state. It involves a four-lane, divided highway (in an area) that probably is not going to decrease in population. Humphrey’s population will be stable and may even grow some,” Schumacher said.

“One of the dangers of not doing this right is there are going to be people who are going to buy lots, they’re going to develop businesses, they’re going to develop access ways, and that all makes it more expensive to go in and do something right 10-20 years from now when there’s all this other stuff there, so it’s just time to do it right.”

He urged the community to come to the public meeting once the roads department sets a date.

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