BROWNVILLE, Neb. — A modest line of vehicles on the Nebraska side of the U.S. Highway 136 bridge waited for a traffic signal Wednesday to cross the Missouri River.
Six months ago, such a wait might have elicited grumbles. But George and Terra Levy of Auburn, Neb., considered it a minor inconvenience compared to four months of having the bridge closed because of flooding.
"We've been a little isolated here," George Levy said as he waited to continue his drive to Rock Port, Mo.
At least Nebraskans and Missourians who regularly drive across the river didn't have to wait as long as anticipated for emergency repairs to Highway 136. The stretch of pavement between Brownville and Rock Port reopened Tuesday night, about a month ahead of schedule.
It was the latest good news for flood-weary residents of southeast Nebraska, western Iowa and northwest Missouri. Highway 2 reopened in Iowa on Monday, restoring a connection between Nebraska City and Interstate 29.
Road construction crews in Missouri have been working around the clock, seven days a week since Sept. 19 to fill four gaps torn in Highway 136 by powerful flood currents. The Missouri Department of Transportation spent $6.8 million on the emergency repair contracts, said Holly Hailey, senior customer relations specialist for the department.
The largest gap was 480 feet long and 65 feet deep and required 105,000 tons of rock to fill. The rock was enough to fill 4,900 dump trucks, Hailey said.
Floodwaters did not reach the highway on the Nebraska side of the river.
Only a single lane of traffic will be open in some short stretches of the repaired highway until finishing repairs are done, Hailey said. The Brownville bridge also will be restricted to one lane for several more weeks while it is repainted, work that was delayed by flooding.
Reopening Highway 136 will be especially welcome to people who live in Missouri but work at Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville. Flood-closed bridges turned what was a 10-minute commute into a 2½-hour drive.
Up to 150 employees at the nuclear station have been living in temporary housing in Nebraska, working four days per week and going home only on weekends.
The reopened highway also brought smiles to the faces of Brownville business owners, who said they took major losses last summer as the flooding squeezed tourist traffic to a trickle.
"It was wonderful to have coffee with Missourians this morning," said Harold Davis, owner of Brownville Mills.
Even though I-29 closings brought more traffic and more dollars to Auburn in recent months, many residents had grown tired of the congestion, especially from semitrailer trucks, said Auburn Mayor Scott Kudrna.
Closing Highway 136 also hurt other local businesses because regular customers from Missouri couldn't make it to town.
"Everybody is very happy about it," he said of the reopening.
U.S. Highway 159 between Rulo, Neb., and Big Lake, Mo., remains the final connector highway still closed because of flooding. Roads officials hope emergency repairs to the highway will be done by mid-December.
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