PLATTSMOUTH, Neb. — When the old, privately owned toll bridge came up for sale a few years back, a public commission bought it for $1.
That dollar has returned dividends no one could have foreseen.
Tens of thousands of motorists in Nebraska and Iowa have gladly paid more than the bridge's sale price to use one of the few spans not barricaded by the Missouri River flood.
At its peak, the historic flood closed six crossings in Nebraska. The Plattsmouth toll bridge remains the only one open between Bellevue, Neb., and St. Joseph, Mo., a distance of about 120 miles.
During a normal year, bridge traffic averages 30,000 vehicles per month.
In June, 49,000 vehicles paid tolls. Traffic counts hit 46,000 in July and 54,000 in August. Bridge manager Bob Colbert expects September's count will exceed 50,000 when it's tabulated.
Tolls run $1.25 for cars and up to $2.75 for semitrailers per crossing. Even though a toll costs less than a gallon of fuel, a few motorists can't help but gripe when they roll up to the booth, Colbert said. But only a few.
"Most of them are really happy they have a place to get across," he said.
Toll takers also give out more than their share of directions, mostly to folks confused about all the flooding-related detours. It seems a few GPS units were confused, too.
Back in 2007, the bridge was in need of serious repairs and was under threat of being closed and demolished. But Plattsmouth leaders formed a public commission, bought the bridge and qualified for $3.2 million in federal highway funding to make the repairs, said Roger Wehrbein, a former state senator who serves as chairman of the commission.
Profits are used to pay for maintenance and repairs, Wehrbein said. With the high water and heavy traffic in recent months, bridge staff kept a close eye on the structure to make sure it was safe. It's due for an engineer inspection soon.
Not only does the bridge make travel more convenient for local residents, it undoubtedly generated more business for Plattsmouth over the summer, City Administrator Erv Portis said. Taxable sales increased by 5 percent to 7 percent in June and July, which he attributed, in part, to increased traffic because of the bridge.
"That bridge is important to the economy of this region," he said.
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