The transportation sector and the infrastructure that supports it are vital to Nebraska’s economy and quality of life. Reliable, modern infrastructure makes possible our daily commute to work, our tourism industry and our supply of food and products that our families need and want.
Consider, for example, that trucks, trains, planes and ships move more than 54 tons of freight annually for every one of us. Unfortunately, the capacity of America’s infrastructure is currently considered inadequate to meet present-day needs, and the demand for new and improved infrastructure is expected to soar.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Transportation released new freight projections predicting a 40 percent increase in the amount of freight moving on the U.S. transportation network over the next three decades. This is one more example of why investments in infrastructure are critical to our economic health and quality of life.
Transportation has always been a key economic driver for Nebraska, going back to the days of the Great Platte River Road – a superhighway in its day. Today the Cornhusker State sits at the heart of the great NAFTA Trade and Transportation Corridor between Canada and Mexico, and is easily linked to destinations throughout the United States.
Obviously, Nebraska is well served by two Class I rail systems (BNSF and Union Pacific) and 10 freight railroads, which operate more than 3,200 miles of track throughout the state. Freight railroads are unique in that they own, build, maintain and pay for themselves. In Nebraska, this includes estimated investments of $110 million by BNSF and $79 million by Union Pacific Railroad last year alone – a key reason why the business community must support policies that encourage freight railroads to continue to invest.
When it comes to our highways, Nebraska holds almost 24,000 miles of hard-surfaced roads. Interstate 80 spans 482 miles from one end of the state to the other. Goods shipped by truck from Nebraska can reach approximately 26 percent of the U.S. population within one day; in two days, goods can reach roughly 90 percent of the U.S. population.
This is why the Nebraska Chamber was a strong supporter of recent legislation (LB960 in 2016) that created a state infrastructure bank to accelerate completion of approximately 150 unfinished miles of four-lane expressways. This law will greatly enhance the movement of goods for both businesses and consumers by dedicating $450 million over 17 years to Nebraska’s infrastructure funding. It has also allowed the Nebraska Roads Department to use a different bidding process (design-build) to complete projects more efficiently and quickly.
The passage of the infrastructure bank plan came just five years after Nebraska policymakers enacted LB84, a law that dedicates a quarter cent of the state’s 5.5 percent sales tax to roads funding. This approach has provided Nebraska with a more reliable method of highway funding in an era that would otherwise see declining fuel tax revenues. LB84 generates an additional $60-$70 million a year for roads, according to estimates.
Meanwhile, the Nebraska Chamber along with its national partners – the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber – are pushing hard to encourage federal policymakers to address our nation’s most pressing infrastructure priorities.
Without question, transportation infrastructure is vital to Nebraska’s and America’s future. Thankfully, Nebraska’s state lawmakers have been bold and creative in recent years in their work to address our infrastructure needs. The Nebraska Chamber is encouraging the same level of creativity at the federal level so America can truly invest in a world-class, 21st-century infrastructure.