Road work behind: Nebraska 63 near Alvo to stay closed for another half-year

December 20, 2018

It was a roller coaster of a highway, 6 miles of steep hills, narrow shoulders and deep ditches.

And Nebraska 63 through Alvo — a convenient connector between East O Street and Interstate 80 — was getting busier. Last year, an average of 1,400 vehicles traveled the stretch daily, up from about 1,100 a decade ago.

So the state’s announcement in 2016 that it would have the hills shaved, the shoulders widened, the lowest spots filled in and the highway slightly realigned was good news.

“It’s always been a dangerous road,” said James Peterson, the Cass County commissioner who represents the area. “I’m happy to see something’s being done about it. But it’s unfortunate the project has gone the way it has.”

Or the way it hasn’t. The $12 million project was supposed to be finished last month, but the contractor is now predicting a midsummer reopening of the road. The delay will force commuters to continue their detours, and require more than a dozen homeowners along the highway to keep using county roads.

The state and the contractor held an open house last week in Greenwood to discuss the delay. Many of the 25 or so people who attended weren’t happy with the news, said Jesse De Los Santos, a project manager with the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

“There was quite a few people who are frustrated, and rightfully so,” he said. “They’ve been dealing with this all year and they were expecting a finished project at the end of the fall.”

But the contractors didn’t expect the volume of rain that fell on the work site, forcing them to idle their equipment and push back the completion date.

“It’s just really due to the wet year,” said Casey Wisness of Knife River Midwest. “With how much rain the project is getting, we weren’t able to get all the dirt work done.”

Rebuilding the former county road required intensive dirt work. Crews are cutting down tops of hills, using that soil to fill in other areas, widening shoulders and cutting in flat-bottom ditches. But they can’t work with mud.

“Moisture kills production,” De Los Santos said. “You don’t want to build your road foundation on muck.”

Knife River’s crews were ultimately able to complete most of the dirt work this year, but now the company has to wait until spring to pave the road, Wisness said.

Peterson, the county commissioner, missed the public meeting, but he’s heard concerns from his constituents who live along the closed stretch of highway, he said.

First, they want assurances the temporary lanes and county roads they’re using will be kept clear and maintained during winter snows. And because the project is raising the surface of the highway, some are worried about steep inclines out of their farms and onto the road.

“In my opinion, the project is leaving many of the citizens in situations that are much worse on getting into and out of their operations than they’ve ever had,” he said. “Even when the project has been completed, it will be worse.”

But that shouldn’t be a problem, De Los Santos said. The project includes grading out onto driveways and county roads to eliminate steep transitions.

Still, Peterson plans to tour the area with the county highway superintendent to see if the concerns are merited. And he plans to put the highway closure — the inconvenienced neighbors, any county complaints — on the commission agenda in January, he said.

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