A lot has been said about how the opening of Kearney's second Interstate 80 exit might help the financially strapped Great Platte River Road Archway Monument.
But the new stretch of pavement will serve much more than the westward expansion museum. The clearest benefit of the new interchange to central Nebraska is its potential to grow the commercial and industrial footprint of a great Nebraska college town and to help it continue to create jobs.
An associated bypass, when completed over the next several years, will offer out-of-town paramedics faster and easier access to the local hospital, give drivers direct access to the Kearney airport and link Interstate 80 with a planned veterans home. It also will clear some truck traffic from congested parts of town.
It will no doubt help spur new development, particularly north of the exit and along Archway Parkway, near the Nebraska Firefighters Museum and an RV park, said Mike Morgan, Kearney's city manager.
That is why the interchange is good for Kearney and for Nebraska, regardless of whether it helps save the museum over I-80 — which, with a positive court ruling, it might.
“It's invaluable, the access,” said Marion McDermott, executive director of the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce. “The fact that we've got facilities and land available, it gives us that opportunity.”
It feels as though the east Kearney exit has been discussed forever. The Kearney City Council approved adding the interchange to its comprehensive development plan in 1997.
The state first studied its feasibility in 1999, but the interchange largely languished until 2005, when U.S. Sens. Chuck Hagel and Ben Nelson worked with Rep. Tom Osborne to secure $17.4 million in federal tax dollars. The project has been underway so long that Rep. Adrian Smith, who no longer seeks budget earmarks, secured one for it in 2008.
Plans for the eastern exit actually predate the archway, something people forget when they criticize where the museum was built.
So Nebraskans can understand the excitement of Kearney residents and join with them in celebrating the new opportunities. As Morgan says, “Kearney is growing pretty dramatically and we'll see some major changes.”
Those changes — and the continuing growth of the hometown of the University of Nebraska at Kearney — are good for taxpayers from central Nebraska to the Panhandle and all points east.