The Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) recently hosted several open house public meetings, including one on Thursday, June 27 at the Holt County Annex, to share information about its flood recovery plan and Emergency Relief (ER) projects in response to the historic flooding in March 2019.
Several NDOT officials were on hand to share information about the District 8 flood recovery projects. The district includes Blaine, Boyd, Brown, Cherry, Garfield, Holt, Keya Paha, Loup, Rock and Wheeler counties.
Two of the major projects discussed included the U.S. Highway 281 bridge and roadway between O'Neill and Spencer and the State Highway 11 bridge between Atkinson and Butte. With the addition of the county bridge between Stuart and Naper also being washed, those wanting to travel between Boyd and Holt counties have had to commute more than 100 miles.
"We are real proud of the progress we have made. All of our major projects are under construction or under contract. If contractors are not there they will be there very, very soon. That is quite an achievement after 3 months to have all of these projects under contract," said Kyle Schneweis, P.E., director of NDOT. "I know folks are anxious for the roadways to be opened and we understand that, especially some of the projects we are talking about here today — U.S. Highway 281 and Highway 11. With these bridges being out it has significantly impacted the communities. We are very eager to get them up and going."
A segment of Highway 281 washed away just south of the Niobrara River bridge on the Holt County side due to the bomb cyclone and debris from the destruction of Spencer Dam in March. Due to the Niobrara River cutting a new channel, a 1,050 ft. bridge will be built where the highway was destroyed. The original bridge, 600 ft. in length, on the Boyd County side, has remained in place.
"The 281 project didn't use to be a bridge, it was a roadway. So it is quite an achievement to get to where we are, in part, because it is so dynamic. There wasn't a channel there before and now there is. We had to look at how to address that hydrology and figure out the engineering. Now here we are, 3 months after the flood and we got people working. So, it's pretty good," Schneweis said.
NDOT is coordinating the design of the new permanent structure with the Nebraska Public Power District, U.S. Corp of Engineers, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Natural Resources District, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency and local residents.
NDOT announced May 23 that Hawkins Construction of Omaha was awarded the contract. Work began immediately to install a single lane "shoofly" with a traffic signal to allow traffic to move through the construction zone temporarily while the permanent bridge is being constructed.
"On Highway 281, we are moving very aggressively. They have been working 24 hours a day out there trying to get a temporary bridge in place by August. I am going to go visit it today and see how they are making progress, but from what I understand they are moving as fast as they can," Schneweis said. "We have a great contractor out there. They are a good Nebraska company, they understand what we are up against and they want to be part of the solution."
Once the temporary bridge is open, all legal loads will be allowed on the temporary bridge, but there will be a width restriction of 14 ft.
"We anticipate we can still hold the regular weight limits on the temporary bridge. I don't think we are going to be looking to put oversized, overweight windmills across that bridge, but it will be wide enough for farm equipment. We understand that is not an ideal situation, but is a heck of a lot better than where we are today. As soon as that temporary bridge is in, the permanent bridge will take center stage. We hope to have that open by next summer," Schneweis said.
The $25,470,997 contract covers the single lane temporary roadway and bridge as well as the permanent bridge over the channel.
The state bridge over the Niobrara River north of Atkinson on Highway 11 leading to Butte also was damaged by large ice chunks and debris during the March flooding.
Kiewet Infrastructure Co. of Omaha has been awarded the $7,241,994.20 contract. Work began on June 24 with completion expected by Dec. 31. The project was originally designed and advertised for letting on May 28, but no bids were received.
According to NDOT, bridge engineers have continued to evaluate the situation and damage to the bridge. In order to provide a safe, reliable and sustainable solution, the NDOT altered the design to replace the bridge deck and repair all the damaged steel girders now to avoid future traffic disruptions for additional work in coming years. Additional considerations to the decision included the timeline of the August opening of the temporary bridge on Highway 281.
According to Schneweis, individuals who have been parking vehicles on the north and south side of the Highway 11 bridge need to cease immediately due to safety reasons.
"I appreciate the creativity of folks, I really do. To be able to make the most of a bad situation. I also fully endorse that sort of thing. As much as we can do to allow people to still have mobility, we want to do. But then it gets to be a safety issue with all the cranes and the equipment and all those things, we need people to stay off the bridge," he said.
More information on the progress of NDOT's flood project can be found at www.dot.nebraska.gov by clicking on 2019 Flood Information.