City, county purchase largest tract yet for Lincoln’s East Beltway project
Lincoln and Lancaster County have acquired the largest tract of land yet along the path of the future East Beltway.
Jointly, the two purchased a 53-acre section planned for the connection of the East Beltway with Interstate 80 just east of the Waverly exit, Lancaster County Engineer Pam Dingman said.
The Lancaster County Board on Tuesday signed off on the purchase of the undeveloped land zoned for commercial purposes.
The $2.84 million deal is the latest move to protect the corridor for an East Beltway that local transportation officials hope will finish a freeway system around Lincoln through its connection of the interstate to Nebraska 2.
The East Beltway remains far from construction, with no plans to build it in the near future.
Still, Lincoln and Lancaster County have staked claim to the corridor, which runs along what would be 127th Street.
Less than 2% of the land in the corridor has been purchased, and the latest acquisition significantly depleted the county’s bank account earmarked for the project, Dingman told the County Board.
Lincoln and Lancaster County are on their own right now in preparing for the project, since state and federal transportation funding hasn’t been dedicated to the project.
Since the East Beltway is projected to be longer than the South Beltway, it’s likely to cost twice as much as the South Beltway, Dingman said.
Transportation leaders Friday awarded a $352 million construction contract for the South Beltway, even though the lone bid overshot the project’s budget.
Hawkins Construction of Omaha will build the 11-mile, four-lane freeway linking Nebraska 2 and U.S. 77 on the south side of Lincoln. The state expects construction on an accelerated three-year timeline to begin by May.
Though the East Beltway hasn’t been designed and more detailed construction estimates are yet to be determined, Dingman said there’s one project certainty.
“The longer we wait to build it, the more expensive it will be,” Dingman said.
Only with funding from the state and federal government will the East Beltway be affordable to build, and, right now, neither have made the project a priority, Dingman said.
The city has been saving about $250,000 a year to put toward the project, according to its long-range project plan.
The county had previously dedicated some keno funds to the project, but that funding commitment isn’t as reliable, Dingman said.
The East Beltway didn’t receive funds in the most recent budget, she said.
As Lincoln continues to grow eastward, development puts pressure on the efforts to protect the corridor if project funding continues the way it has, Dingman said.
Anytime someone seeks a permit to build or expand on property in the corridor, it initiates an eight-month timeframe for project officials to acquire the right-of-way or allow development on the property to proceed, according to project documents.
Discussions are already ongoing on a handful of other properties in the corridor, Dingman told the County Board, as she reiterated her concern for the funds to protect the project’s future.
“It’s not a good spot,” she said.
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