A county commissioner is worried about a 16-month delay in the study to guide development surrounding an improved Platteview Road.
But the Federal Highway Administration is unhappy about suggestions it is responsible for the delay.
Commissioner Tom Richards said the delay could spell trouble once the new Highway 34 bridge over the Missouri River opens next fall.
“We’re going to have trucks sitting at our doorstep in less than a year,” he said. “Something’s got to give here pretty quick.”
Richards issued his warning at the Sarpy County Board meeting held Dec. 3.
Sarpy County Public Works Director Dennis Wilson told board members the federal government, which is paying 80 percent of the cost of the $160,000 study, ordered the freeze in August 2012 after the County Board extended the study’s scope west from Highway 50 in Springfield to Highway 31 in Gretna.
Doug Hecox, spokesman for the federal agency, said Wilson’s statements painted the federal agency in an unfair light. In a call to the Gretna Breeze, said the agency had quickly approved the expanded study.
Wilson acknowledged the federal agency’s complaints last week. He said he had spoken with Melissa Maiefski, a team leader with the Lincoln offices of the Federal Highway Administration.
“According to her they had turned their review around within two weeks,” he said. “That’s not the story I heard from other people involved in the project, but I certainly believe that Melissa is telling the truth.”
Nevertheless, Wilson said, the 16-month delay is a fact.
“We’re going to sit down with the Metropolitan Planning Agency and the FHWA, the consultant, and the Nebraska Department of Roads just to see where the delays are coming from and see if we can’t rectify things,” he said.
Wilson said jurisdictions that use federal funding for local projects must deal with federal requirements.
He said the City of Papillion has experienced similar delays in using federal money to extend 84th Street south of Highway 370.
“It’s just become such a difficult, arduous task to try and get through the various hoops that the federal government has set up,” Wilson said.
Joe Werning, administrator of the Nebraska division of the federal agency, said he is willing to meet with Sarpy County officials to explain the process of securing federal aid.
“The Federal Highway Administration takes pride in its support for locally administered projects, such as the Platteview Road study, which is why recent claims suggesting we attempted to stop it were so surprising to us,” he said in an email. “We have not only strongly supported it, we have encouraged its expansion to be an even more comprehensive study.”
The delay in completing the study concerned Richards, who said southern Sarpy County is wholly unprepared to absorb the additional traffic that will flow from the new bridge over the Missouri River that is expected to open next fall.
A frustrated Richards suggested that if federal delays last much longer the county should end the partnership and pay for the study itself.
But County Administrator Mark Wayne said the county could forfeit hundreds of millions of dollars in construction money if it did not jump through the Federal Highway Administration’s hoops, which include oversight of the study being conducted by Olsson Associates of Omaha.
The reconstruction of Platteview Road from Highway 75 in Bellevue to Highway 31 is Sarpy County’s most pressing road project.
The effort will require construction of 18 miles of four-lane, divided highway designed to carry the heavy truck traffic that is expected to empty onto Platteview Road after the Highway 34 bridge opens and connects Sarpy County to Interstate 29.
Officials with the Iowa Department of Transportation, which is building the bridge, have estimated the bridge will open in the fall of 2014.
The study is being conducted by Olsson Associates of Omaha. Given the importance of the study, Wilson said he expects it will be a priority.
“Olsson will proceed pretty fast on it, I guarantee you that,” he said.
He said the study will yield five alternatives, each with cost estimates, and that the federal government will have the final say over which one is selected.
Commissioner Jim Warren said the study should have commenced years ago, when it became clear the new Missouri River bridge might become reality.
“Assuming everything is approved and we get several hundred million dollars for a road project, is it five years out, 10 years out?” he asked. “I don’t think you can do it in five.”
Wilson said construction projects that involve federal money typically take between five and six years to complete, and that Platteview Road would likely be reconstructed in one- or two-mile segments.