Lancaster County Engineer looks to secure funding for East Beltway

LINCOLN, Neb. - After more than a decade of no movement on plans to build an East Beltway, Lancaster County Engineer Pam Dingman is hoping to bring it back to the county's attention.

A County safety survey showed that if the East Beltway is not built by 2040, 148th Street will have to become a four lane divided highway to handle all the traffic. (Source: KOLN)

Today Dingman met with the County Commissioners to discuss setting aside funding needed to purchase land along the east corridor.

Dingman says if the county doesn't start saving up now, an East Beltway might never happen.

The East Beltway won't be cheap. Dingman estimates it would cost about $200 million, and right now, there isn't any federal funding available. But she says she's not ready to give up on it just yet.

A County safety study shows that if an East Beltway isn't built, 148th St. would have to be made a four lane divided highway to handle all the traffic.

"Right now, Saltillo Road is acting like the South Beltway, and 148th is serving as the East Beltway," Dingman said. "Right now, Lancaster County doesn't have any other four lane divided highways in our jurisdiction and I think that just speaks to the need."

The city sewer also now reaches that part of town, and Dingman says development will come shortly after. And if the city and county don't team up to buy the land along the east corridor that connects Highway 2 with I-80, they will lose the opportunity to create the beltway completely to new development.

The struggles remind many of the South Beltway. The idea started in the 1960s, and now, more than 50 years later, construction is finally set to begin in 2020.

But, the South Beltway's $300 million price tag was paid for by federal, state and local dollars. Now, for the East Beltway, the city and county are trying to buy the land needed to build.

Dingman says right now, the city and county have about 3 or 4 plots of land bought, but they need enough to build 12 miles worth of road, and that will take several years to achieve.

Part of the problem is also the account that would pay for the land acquisition has only $2.4 million in it, and Dingman says at least one more big purchase will need to be made out of that fund during this fiscal year, something she brought to the county's attention.

"I'm trying to be proactive with the balance of this fund and with the acquisitions rather than reactive," Dingman said. "I don't think there is necessarily a crisis now, but if we were to need to continue to purchase $1.5 or $2 million of property a year, every year, there would definitely be an issue."

The money in that account had been made up of Keno profits, but lately, the county has been using those funds to balance the budget.

Dingman says she hopes that construction on the East Beltway can begin by 2040.

"I joke with people, I'm not going to even think about retiring until they get that East Beltway finished, so I'm hoping it will be sooner rather than later," Dingman said.