PACIFIC JUNCTION - More than 200 people, including dignitaries from Iowa and Nebraska, turned out for Thursday afternoon’s groundbreaking ceremony for the U.S. Highway 34 – Missouri River Bridge.
The $137.8 million bridge project will link western Mills County with U.S. Highway 75 in Sarpy County, Neb., south of Offutt Air Force Base. Eighty percent of the funding for the project, that will include an overhaul of the Highway 34 – Interstate 29 interchange, will come from the federal government. Iowa and Nebraska will both kick in 10 percent.
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, U.S. Rep Steve King and Lt. Gov. Patty Judge were among Iowa’s political delegation in attendance. Gov. Dave Heineman headed the contingency from Nebraska. They all agree that when completed, the new bridge will spark economic development on both sides of the Missouri River.
"The Highway 34 bridge is an important project when it comes to growing southwest Iowa," Judge said. "You should be very proud today of breaking ground on this critical piece of your infrastructure. Bridges open up communities to travel, to trade and to business in ways that would not possible without them."
Heineman said the project is a good example of both states working together for the common good of the region.
"We have a history in Nebraska and Iowa, all across this border of ours, working together. This is another great example," Heineman said. "It’s good for agriculture, it’s good for rural economic development and a transportation infrastructure is very significant if we’re going to improve and expand that economic development opportunity."
Mills County Supervisor Ron Kohn said he's optimistic the new bridge will bring new economic development opportunities to Mills County.
"I think it can increase the amount of business development in this area and that will help our tax situation throughout the county. That's one real positive thing about it." Kohn said. "I think new businesses coming in will mean new folks coming in, and new ideas help the community. I look forward to the development that's going to take place here."
Thursday’s ceremony was especially significant for Glenwood banker Larry Winum, the workforce behind the project for the past 19 years, along with former Nebraska legislator Paul Hartnett of Bellevue.
"I’m especially happy for Larry Winum. So many good remarks were made about him – every single one of them deserved," King said. "He’s been a bulldog on it. He’s latched on to it. He’s made sure that there aren’t loose ends. He’s pushed this thing all the way through.
"I know when the DOT commission sits down and somebody steps up to talk to them, they may not know what the subject matter is. When Larry Winum steps up to talk, they knew he was going to talk about the 34 bridge. That’s been consistent throughout the state of Iowa, across Nebraska and out to Washington. Everybody that’s here today knows who Larry Winum is."
Winum said he was gratified to see the project reach this stage, but noted that his work won’t be complete until the bridge opens in late 2013 or early 2014.
"You kind of get a wide range of emotions," he said. "It’s like anything, you work hard for something, you have your ups and your downs, and you wonder if it’s ever going to happen. Then, finally the day comes. It’s not done, but it sure looks like it’s going to happen. It makes you feel good. Really, what it does, it makes you think, 'You know what, people do work together.' You don’t always agree. There are challenges. You have to stay persistent.
"It doesn’t happen because of one person. It happens because of a bunch of people."
Harkin ended his remarks by inviting everyone who was in attendance Thursday back to the ribbon cutting for the bridge’s grand opening in three years.
"Meet me in the middle in 2013," Harkin said.