This Nebraska Republican says it’s time to think big on rural investment

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

WHY WE WROTE THIS

When improving America’s infrastructure comes up ?– as is happening now in Washington ?– it often conjures images of wider urban highways. But some of the biggest needs may actually be in rural America.

The bridge and river channel in Norfolk, Nebraska, look decidedly ordinary until Mayor Josh Moenning starts to tell his story:

“The water ?– you see the bottom of the bridge deck? ?– it was lapping at the deck,” he recalls of last month’s epic flooding here in northeastern Nebraska. The flood control channel “was at almost 90% [capacity] and the north fork of the Elkhorn River upstream was continuing to rise. It had already ravaged communities like Pierce and Osmond and we knew this was real and that we needed to begin evacuations.”

About a third of the city was evacuated. “But in the end, it was this levee system that saved the day for Norfolk,” he adds. “It was that infrastructure investment that was made back in the ’60s to not only build this channel, but to engineer it to withstand and hold so much water, that diverted floodwaters out of the city and saved us from a lot of loss and damage.”

If city leaders had the foresight more than 50 years ago to invest in infrastructure that would save their city from a monster 21st-century storm, shouldn’t Nebraskans today do the same? he asks. “Let’s not just rebuild and replace, let’s rethink and reposition how rural Nebraska interfaces with the new economy.”

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