The Legislature agreed Wednesday night to delay a decision on legislation that would authorize up to $450 million in highway bond financing largely devoted to expediting completion of the state's four-lane expressway system until next year.
One of the reasons prompting the agreement to "park this bill" was to await congressional action on potential enactment of "a significant infrastructure bill" that could substantially impact the Legislature's ultimate decision, Speaker Mike Hilgers of Lincoln said.
The proposal (LB542), introduced by Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, will retain its priority status when the 2022 Legislature convenes next January, Hilgers said.
Walz is proposing highway bonding authority to hasten completion of the long-delayed expressway system that was created by the Legislature in 1988 to connect urban centers with a population of more than 15,000 with the Interstate Highway.
More than three decades later, one-third of the system remains unfinished, Walz said.
And that delay translates into "irresponsibility measured in terms of increased costs," she said, along with the loss of economic development and highway safety costs.
"It would be incredibly financially irresponsible to wait any longer," Walz said. And early action could take advantage of "historically low interest rates," she said.
Under terms of the proposal, 75% of the funding derived from the issuance of bonds would be directed to expressway construction.
Authorization of the issuance of bonds would require a three-fifths vote of the Legislature.
Gov. Pete Ricketts has repeatedly signaled his opposition to bond financing.
"Construction costs are going up faster than interest rates would be," Sen. Mike Moser of Columbus argued.
An amended Moser proposal (LB579) that would require consistent accountability by the Nebraska Department of Transportation to the Legislature was given 44-0 first-round approval.
"We need to expedite completion of the expressway system," Moser said.
The original expressway plan was designed to finish construction by 2003, he said.
Senators have been meeting with Ricketts to discuss the issue, Walz said, and the governor has agreed to come to communities impacted by the delay to discuss their concerns while explaining timeline and cost factors that are in play.
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