Road and bridge closures detour Nebraska drivers

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July 25, 2011 - 7:00pm

Nebraska's most recent bout with flooding continues to create changes in routines for many in the state including those who work and travel on Nebraska roads. It began in May when the Missouri and Platte Rivers began swelling from snowmelt. Within a month a 30-mile stretch of Interstate 29 was closed from Highway 2 south to Rock Port, Missouri.

It's not just road closures creating issues. Three bridges from Nebraska - on Highway 2 at Nebraska City, on U.S. 136 at Brownville and U.S. 159 at Rulo - are creating logistical hopscotch for drivers.


Photo by Hilary Stohs-Krause, NET News

As major highways and roads were closed because of flooding, the state recommended travelers use Highway 77, which cuts north to south through the eastern part of Nebraska.

Nebraska Department of Roads

Click here for the Nebraska Department of Roads' web-based interactive map of updated road conditions.


  • Do not drive through floodwaters, even if they look shallow enough to cross.

  • Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing loss of control and possible stalling.

  • A foot of water will float many vehicles - water only one foot deep can displace up to 1,500 pounds.

  • Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles, including sport utility vehicles and pick-ups.

  • Roadways concealed by floodwaters may not be intact.

  • Be aware of areas where floodwaters have recently receded. Roads might have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.

  • The large majority of deaths related to flash flooding result from people driving through flooded areas.

SOURCE: The Nebraska Department of Roads

Roger Kalkwarf is the Operations and Maintenance Manager for Nebraska Department of Roads for District 1. He said reopening the bridges depends on the river.

"It depends on how long this water's going to last, that's the biggest problem," he said. "They're talking maybe into September the water's going to be up that high."

Then there's the damage those waters are doing to the roads themselves. At least, Kalkwarf said, there's nothing wrong with the bridges.

"It's the highway from the bridge to I-29 that's underwater in different locations," he said. "On the Missouri side the road has deteriorated some and the water is still running over the top of the road. The road has eroded some along the edges and the shoulder's gone in places."

Truckers make up a lot of the traffic on the road. Those professionals are being forced off normal transportation routes and onto alternate roads.

Derek Leathers is the president and chief operating officer for Werner Enterprises in Omaha. He said the detours have put his business in a slower gear.

"It causes increased congestion, you've got more vehicles traveling on less total routes, and as roads get closed and your force more vehicles to the remaining passable routes it causes a slowdown in the overall velocity in the network," he said. "Loads and shipments take longer to be delivered, drivers spend more time delivering less total freight and the cost of each shipment goes up as a result."

Still, those on the road have to get from point A to B. As a result more cars and semis have ended up on Highway 77 west of Lincoln. The state department of roads and the Nebraska Highway Patrol lists 77 as an alternative for drivers who need to head south from I-80.

Some towns like Brownville are experiencing an economic downturn because flooding has cut off their regular traffic. Others, like Beatrice, are seeing a bit of a boost.

Aaron Causson began running the Homestead Plaza Truck Stop in Beatrice about the same time the flooding began. His business sits on Highway 77 and has brought in many of the truck drivers and travelers trying to navigate the sometimes unchartered waters of detours.

"All the gas stations and truck stops along those alternate routes have tried to step up and be as helpful as possible," he said.

While truck stops and gas stations like the one in Beatrice are benefiting from the detours, Leathers said his drivers will be glad to be back on a more open road.

"I think the biggest headache is dealing with non-professional drivers that are frustrated by all the detours, congestion and routing," he said.

Leathers said truckers are professional drivers and get used to the inconveniences of life on the road. But he said miles of slower traffic can cause other drivers to lose their composure.

"Some of their aggressive techniques and frustration trying to cut trucks off and trying to advance another 15 feet on what's ultimately going to be a several hundred mile trip can become very frustrating for our drivers," he said.

Detours represent a frustration that will only continue. Interstate 29, along with the three bridges linking Nebraska with that roadway, are scheduled to be long-term closures.



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