LINCOLN — A new task force established by the Nebraska Department of Roads to help the agency become more efficient made it clear Thursday that any decisions to close little-used county roads and bridges would remain with local officials.

The 20-member Innovation Task Force, meeting for the second time since it was established in October, discussed Thursday how to attack the huge backlog of rural county bridge replacement and repair projects across the state.

Nebraska has about 15,000 bridges longer than 20 feet, and about 15 percent are structurally deficient and in need of repair. There are an additional 30,000 shorter rural bridges, many in need of replacement because of old age and today’s heavier farm equipment.

One aspect of a proposal introduced in the Legislature this year would establish a voluntary pilot project with counties to provide some state matching funds if counties “bundle” several bridge projects into one.

State Roads Director Kyle Schneweis said the County Bridge Match Program in Legislative Bill 960 is not intended to solve the state’s bridge-repair backlog but to try an innovation that could build more bridges at a lower cost.

The discussion included a controversial topic: closing some county roads and bridges to save money so that funds could be used on higher-priority projects.

Schneweis said that though it’s clear that there is a lack of funding to repair everything in Nebraska, any decisions to close county bridges and roads would be made by local officials, not the state.

Two county highway superintendents at Thursday’s meeting, Steve Riehle of Hall County and Tim Nelsen of Otoe County, agreed.There are 185 county bridges across the state that have been closed because of poor condition or floods.

Contact the writer: 402-444-6612, paul.hammel@owh.com

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