BLAIR, Neb. (KMTV) — Nearly one-fifth of traffic through downtown Blair are trucks, but a bypass in south Blair could change that.
It's been talked about for decades, but the first step gets underway Thursday: Black Hills Energy will begin to move a pipeline to make way for the bypass. Black Hills says the project will cause traffic disruptions, and possible lane closures, in the area for several weeks.
Work on the road itself should begin in March, according to Blair Director of Public Works Al Schoemaker. The bypass could be open by the end of 2024, he says.
The goal of the project, and a possible north bypass project, is to reduce truck traffic in the downtown area, which Washington County Chamber of Commerce Director Jordan Rishel says impacts retail shops during the day.
Some businesses, she said, prefer the traffic through the area to bring more eyes. But the trucks make it noisy and sometimes smelly, but more importantly they are dangerous, others say.
In 2019, a sixth grader, Jaycoby Estrada, was killed after being hit by a truck in Blair while riding a bike.
Rishel and Mayor Rich Hansen said about one mirror a week is knocked off a car by a large truck.
Rishel said it's an especially big problem for downtown businesses that cater to older folks, such as the Truhlsen Elder Care Law of Nebraska office.
"Ultimately, our goal is to get some of the trucks to use the bypass, and just make it a safer, more pleasant downtown experience," Rishel said.
The project is funded by a mix of federal, state, and local funds, Hansen says.
Hansen says companies like Amazon might still make it difficult for mom-and-pop retail shops to succeed in downtown Blair, but diverting truck traffic might make it easier on them. As he was parking downtown about five years ago, he said he was sideswiped by a large truck, which he chased down and confronted.
About 600,000 cubic yards of dirt will need to be moved for the bypass, Schoemaker says. That's likely more than 40,000 truckloads.
The plan for the project is below.