KEARNEY, Neb. — The East Kearney Bypass Interchange, also known as Exit 275 of Interstate 80, was a project built on a foundation of cooperation.
Commemorating the opening of the exit Tuesday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the east parking lot of the Great Platte River Road Archway, local, state and federal officials applauded the efforts of the many people involved in the accomplishment.
“It's been a long cooperative journey,” Gov. Dave Heineman said under the hot morning sun.
Heineman recognized Mayor Stan Clouse and other city officials for their roles in getting the exit approved and built.
Heineman also recognized former State Sen. Deb Fischer, now a U.S. senator, for her role in crafting the Build Nebraska Act, signed into law in May 2011, which diverted a quarter-cent of the state's 5.5-cent sales tax into a fund for high-priority road projects, including the bypass. Money from that fund will help pay for the second and third phases of the project.
Fischer said getting funds for road projects was one of her main goals as the chairwoman of the State Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.
“You are going to have to have decent roads and bridges if you're going to transport goods and see growth of commerce and economic development,” she said after the ceremony.
Clouse, who gave the opening comments, thanked Fischer for pushing the city to fulfill its share of funding for the project, which was around $7.3 million — $1.5 million of which was paid with city-issued bonds.
He said having that funding was crucial in persuading the state and federal governments to get on board with the project, which will have a final price tag of more than $50 million when it is complete in 2016.
The bypass will do more than funnel tourists to the Great Platte River Road Archway.
“A lot of people think the exit was built to serve the archway,” said Joel Johnson, chairman of the archway's foundation. “But it was just the opposite.”
The Kearney City Council first looked at plans for the bypass in 1997, City Manager Mike Morgan said before Tuesday's ceremony. The thought then was to accommodate an expanding city and stimulate economic growth in east Kearney.
Kearney Volunteer Fire Department Chief Terry Eirich said the new route avoiding Second Avenue will cut three to five minutes off response time for fires and accidents on the Interstate.
When the bypass is finished in 2016, Johnson said, truck drivers will be able to haul loads around Kearney rather than through it. He said travelers wishing to visit towns north of Kearney also will benefit.