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New Highway 281 bridge is open; previous span was wiped out after Spencer Dam collapsed
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New Highway 281 bridge is open; previous span was wiped out after Spencer Dam collapsed

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LINCOLN — The last roadway washed out by the epic flooding in 2019 has reopened.

Gov. Pete Ricketts joined other officials on Thursday to mark the milestone and celebrate the completion of a bridge on U.S. Highway 281 that spans the new channel of the Niobrara River, south of Spencer.

A huge section of the highway was washed out when the Spencer Dam, just upriver, collapsed on the night of March 13-14, 2019. The river cut a new channel, requiring a second, 1,050-foot-long bridge to be built below the dam.

The new span was finished on Oct. 15 — 580 days after the floods — replacing a temporary bridge that had been in place since July 2019. A 127-mile detour had been required to cross the river before the installation of the temporary, one-lane bridge.

“The speed of rebuilding is a true testament to the commitment and dedication of the community, the Nebraska Department of Transportation and everyone who contributed to get us here,” Ricketts said during the ceremony on the new bridge.

Flooding in March 2019 closed 3,300 miles of the state highway system and required replacement or major work on more than 27 bridges and 200 miles of pavement.

The total damage to the state highway system was about $150 million, according to Jeni Campana, a spokeswoman for the department.

The Spencer bridge project cost $25.5 million. Hawkins Construction was the lead contractor, and Olsson worked to expedite the design of the new bridge.

One man who lived just below the dam, Kenny Angel, was killed when the 92-year-old structure collapsed. His body was never found.


Photos: Nebraska flooding viewed from above

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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Records indicate that the dam was last inspected in April 2018 and rated in “fair” condition. But the report carried an ominous warning: “deficiencies exist which could lead to dam failure during rare, extreme storm events.” NPPD officials said that the deficiencies had been addressed and that they felt the dam was safe and the collapse was due to an “unprecedented” combination of high flows from the Niobrara River mixed with massive chunks of ice.

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