Offutt runway crew

Teams walk the field every two hours to pick up any loose chunks of concrete near Offutt's runway.

The Defense Department is committed to bidding a $7.5 million contract this May to design runway improvements at Offutt Air Force Base, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., said Tuesday. The construction work would occur in 2017 or 2018.

“It’s not a matter of if, but when the construction takes place,” Fortenberry said. “The Air Force and the overall Defense Department consider it a critical part of our nation’s defense infrastructure.”

The scope of the runway reconstruction hasn’t yet been determined, but he said it could be $125 million “or north of there.”

Fortenberry’s comments came at a press conference in Lincoln that also included Gov. Pete Ricketts and Reps. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., and Adrian Smith, R-Neb. They make up the Offutt Air Force Base Task Force, created this year to both monitor and lobby for key improvements that will help to keep the base open.

“We’ve got to be continually working on it,” Ricketts said. “We need to be sure we’re doing all we can to secure that mission.”

Though the Offutt runway has been patched from time to time, it hasn’t been rebuilt in decades, 55th Wing officials said, and has fallen into disrepair. It is in the worst shape among runways at 17 bases that fall under the Air Force’s Air Combat Command, according to analysis by the command.

The combination of the poor runway and Missouri River levees deemed inadequate by the Federal Emergency Management Agency have caused some of the state’s political leaders to fear for the future of the 55th Wing, which employs about 5,500 of the base’s 10,000 workers.

“Offutt Air Force Base is an important employer in our state,” Ricketts said.

Ashford described the creation of the Offutt task force as “a little bit unprecedented.”

“This is very impressive and somewhat new — the idea that the governor opted to become so involved in this process,” he said. “We’re Nebraskans, and we’re different.”

Smith praised the strong relationship between the 55th Wing and its neighboring communities.

“We want to do everything we can to support the men and women in uniform, who support us,” he said.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1186,

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