Fixing Lancaster County’s deadliest road is years in the making
Text, video, photos and graphics by Jack Housenga, NewsNetNebraska
There is no doubt about it. Saltillo Road is Lancaster County’s deadliest.
Just ask Jim Becker. He and his wife Sandy have lived along Saltillo Road on Lincoln’s south side for 39 years.
“Things happen out here every day. Somebody has to do something,” Becker said.
There have been six fatalities in a five-mile stretch of the road since 2005. Two of them have been just 1,000 feet from Becker’s doorstep. These are just a handful of nearly 170 accidents that have happened on the road in the last decade.
Becker’s attempt to bring attention to the road is reflected in the sign he posted at the end of his driveway. It reads: “Saltillo is Lancaster’s most deadly road. Drive careful.”
“I put the sign up, it got me on TV twice and it got my neighbors involved a little bit, but how many signs can you put up before something is really done?” Becker said. For him, tragedy has become a waiting game.
But Becker is not the only one calling for change. Martell, Nebraska resident Alex McKiernan knows first-hand the dangers of Saltillo Road. For his story, watch the video below:
What makes Saltillo Road a recipe for disaster is its lack of shoulders, steep embankments and a 55-mph speed limit. The biggest issue though has been an increase in traffic.
Saltillo Road has become the county’s heaviest traveled road. Each day, up to 9,000 vehicles drive along the eight-mile stretch, which runs east from Highway 77 to 120th Street.
Becker and his neighbors have taken notice of the increase.
Deb Schorr, currently serving her fourth term as a Lancaster County Commissioner, represents District 3, which covers much of southwest Lancaster County, including Saltillo Road.
She said the increase in traffic can be directly related to the immense growth in south Lincoln.
“Hickman is the largest growing community in the state, along with places like Bennett and Norris,” Schorr said. “We want Lancaster County to grow, but that growth has increased our amount of traffic needs on the road.”
Schorr knows the traffic needs are necessary, but she said making temporary fixes to Saltillo Road is easier said than done.
“It’d be nice if we could just go out there and fix everything today,” Schorr said. “But that process would be very costly and take a great deal of time.”
THE LONG-TERM SOLUTION
The long-term solution is the construction of the Lincoln South Beltway, a four-lane divided freeway project that would connect Nebraska Highway 2 at 120th Street with U.S. 77.
The operation’s purpose: to improve east-west connectivity for regional and interstate travel, while reducing traffic conflicts on rural roads like Saltillo.
The concept of the project took form in the 1960s, and although it saw development throughout much of the 1990s and 2000s, it was put on hold in 2009 due to a lack of funding.
But in 2011, the state Legislature passed the Build Nebraska Act, which permitted a share of state sales tax to be used to help fund infrastructure. That allowed the Nebraska Department of Roads to reopen the project.
THE NEXT STEPS
The current alignment of the Lincoln South Beltway includes four 12-feet lanes and 12-feet paved shoulders with a 54-foot wide median. Since 2013, some modifications have been made to the initial design.
Construction of the Lincoln South Beltway is set to begin in 2020, but whether the project is built will depend entirely on the availability of federal and local funds.
According to the Nebraska Department of Roads, the estimated cost of the project is approximately $200 million. The city of Lincoln’s share would be 20 percent of that total cost, which equates to roughly $40 million.
Schorr believes that will be the county’s biggest challenge in completing the operation.
“It’s very frustrating,” Schorr said. “People want it built tomorrow, and the fact that we’ve been waiting for so long is hard to deal with.”
Despite the plans for the beltway’s construction, Jim Becker is concerned the project will fail in helping make Saltillo Road safer.