State Sen. Mike Moser’s first year serving in the Nebraska Legislature was a little bit of trial by fire.
The former Columbus mayor did his homework, but there were definitely some unknowns lying on the horizon. With this Legislative session wrapping up at the end of May, and the new session not starting until January 2020, Moser has had a little bit of time to reflect.
“There are a lot of moving parts in the state, and we had to get a budget figured out, and then we had the flood right in the middle of that,” Moser said Wednesday afternoon. “So it’s definitely been a daunting project getting up to speed.”
Although the March natural disaster is in the rearview, its effects are still being felt all around Moser’s legislative district (District 22), comprised of all of Platte County, most of Stanton County and the northwest corner of Colfax County. Moser was elected in November 2018, garnering just over 64 percent of the three-county vote.
The senator on Wednesday afternoon, accompanied by two Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) representatives, spent about three hours traveling around areas of District 22 still in the process of having infrastructure repaired.
“It was a chance for him (Moser) to take a tour of his district and look at the highways in his district and speak about programs, and also some of the work that we are doing with flood recovery and other ongoing projects,” NDOT District 3 Engineer Kevin Domogalla said.
Moser said that the group started in Columbus and spent the majority of its time viewing stretches of U.S. Highway 81 south of town and visiting Stanton, where a washed-out bridge is still causing headaches for residents living in the area.
“The Highway 81 going south from Columbus is going pretty well,” Moser said. “They have a few things to complete there, but it’s pretty much getting back to where it needs to be - thank goodness.”
The washed-out bridge stretching over the Elkhorn River south of Stanton, though, will still need a considerable amount of work before its accessible.
“We drove up to Stanton in the north part of District 22, and they have a bridge over the Elkhorn River that has been out since March, and they (area residents) have to drive 30 minutes out of their way just to get into Stanton,” the state senator said. “They have to go to Pilger and then up Highway 15 and come in from the north.
Moser noted the state-funded project has been contracted out and that some real work is getting underway.
“They are getting some materials hauled in and they have hired a contractor to work on it,” he said. “So they have started but they have to put pilings in and backfill and do concrete work.”
The bridge is tentatively expected to be open in October. Moser said.
The projects viewed with NDOT representatives are ones that are benefiting from state aid, Moser said. But there are still infrastructure projects in Platte County in the works that aren’t state-funded, Moser said, noting that he has recently been in conversations with Platte County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jerry Engdahl.
Engdahl said that progress is moving along in regard to repairing the Shell Creek Bridge located just north of Columbus along Monastery Road. The bridge has been out since March 15, and the tractor of deceased Columbus farmer James Wilke is still positioned in the creek bed, a result of when the bridge gave way as he passed attempting to aid neighbors in need, as previously reported by The Telegram.
“We have signed a contract, and work is scheduled to begin the last day of July and is expected to be done toward the end of November,” Engdahl said. “That was a 60-foot bridge and it will be replaced with a 120-foot bridge. Part of the contract was that they have to remove the old bridge and the tractor that is still down there in the water.”
The other major project on the county's radar that was tackled following the flooding was a bridge and road located in the Monroe area.
“The bridge south of Monroe had to be replaced, and that was considered an emergency item because we had four families south of Monroe that couldn’t go north because the bridge was out, or south because the road was out. The bridge south of Monroe is done, and the road (making it passable) will be done very, very soon," he said.
The chairman said that the Monroe bridge project was bid at $365,000 and the road south of Monroe at just under $800,000. Engdahl, who was not at his office when he spoke to The Telegram, was unsure of the cost of the Shell Creek Bridge project off the top of his head.
He added that the Shell Creek and Monroe projects are expected to be eligible for 80 and 100-percent federal reimbursement, respectively.
In total, Engdahl said that officials identified 350 sites countywide that needed repair in the wake of the flooding. County roadwork is earmarked at about $3 million, and other bridge and culvert work – excluding the Monroe and Shell Creek projects – is tagged at $2 million.
Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at email@example.com.