Weekly Column

On October 8, I had the honor of attending a ceremony celebrating the beginning of construction on the Lincoln South Beltway, a new expressway that will connect US Highway 77 with Nebraska Highway 2 a few miles south of Lincoln. 

Also in attendance were Governor Pete Ricketts, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, and NDoT Director Kyle Schneweis, as well as many other dedicated public servants. We all want Lincoln to thrive, and their work has been instrumental in getting this project to the construction phase.

I have written this column just about every week since I was first elected to the Nebraska Legislature in 2005, and longtime readers may have noticed that infrastructure is one of my favorite topics. I was fortunate to serve as chairman of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee in the Unicameral, a position that allowed me to help make sure Nebraska was investing in the infrastructure it needs to grow and prosper.

My appreciation for reliable infrastructure is no accident. My dad was Jerry Strobel, a civil engineer who spent his entire career with NDoT and who served as Director under Governors Kay Orr and Ben Nelson.

That was back when it was called the Nebraska Department of Roads, and my two brothers and I grew up “inspecting road construction” on weekends with our dad. He would take us on drives all across the state to perform these “inspections.” We learned how to handle surveying equipment and how to drop a plumb line. As a kid, I didn’t think that was unusual. I thought everyone grew up that way.

That background in infrastructure led me to introduce the Build Nebraska Act as a state senator. It was enacted in 2011, and it dedicated a quarter cent of sales tax to the construction and maintenance of Nebraska’s roads and highways.

That may not sound like much, but having that consistent revenue stream is important. Build Nebraska Act funds are covering a large part of the project’s total cost, with another major grant of $25 million coming from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER grant program.

I was proud to speak directly with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao about how important this project will be for Nebraska, including sending her a letter in 2017 to offer my full support. Less than a year later, the Department awarded the grant to the Lincoln South Beltway, and NDoT says this helped shorten the project’s construction schedule.

Director Schneweis recently announced that the project’s original eight-year construction plan has been cut down to just three years. This will get Nebraskans on our new expressway sooner while also saving taxpayers about $25 million in overall costs.

This is the most significant infrastructure project NDoT has undertaken. Once it’s done, it will make Lincoln residents safer, help interstate traffic flow more smoothly, and set Nebraska up for a more prosperous tomorrow.

Infrastructure is an investment in our future. We invest in projects like the Lincoln South Beltway not just for benefits 10 or 20 years from now, but so that we can build on these investments for 60, 70, or even 80 years.

It is what our children and grandchildren will rely on in their daily lives, just as the roads we drive on today are the legacy of those who came before us.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, Nebraska’s future is bright, and investments like this are setting us up to come out even stronger on the other side. I look forward to driving on the Lincoln South Beltway very soon.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.