LINCOLN — Citizens of Niobrara, Nebraska, are so excited that two highway bridges washed out by epic spring flooding have been reopened that they’re planning a town celebration this weekend.

“It actually should be called the Wow We Made It festival,” said Esther Nielsen, the village clerk in Niobrara. “It’s been a long haul.”

March floods completely washed away a bridge spanning a channel of the Niobrara River known as the Mormon Canal just west of Niobrara on Nebraska Highway 12 and damaged another bridge a few yards away on the same highway.

That completely cut off the village of 370 to points west, including access to the popular Niobrara State Park.

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Businesses in Niobrara suffered — Nielsen said that local sales tax receipts dropped nearly 40% — and at least two area residents used motorboats to travel to work across the river.

But on Tuesday, Nielsen said, cars were parked up and down the main streets of the town at the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers.

“Hopefully, we’ll have a good fall,” she said.

The two bridges opened for traffic Saturday, just in time for the opening of school in Niobrara and for an annual powwow held by the Ponca Indian Tribe.

On Tuesday, state and local officials gathered for a ceremonial opening. The festival, inspired by the bridges’ reopening, is scheduled this weekend in Niobrara.

The reconstruction of the two bridges was labeled one of the most complex and expensive flood-reconstruction projects by the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

The $44.2 million contract was let to Hawkins Construction in June to repair the Niobrara River bridge and install a 24-foot-wide, single-lane temporary bridge over the Mormon Canal while a new permanent bridge is being built.

Ten other subcontractors worked on an expedited schedule, and the temporary bridge was hauled in from New Jersey, to meet the goal of reopening the highway by Thursday.

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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