The Year 2035.
That’s when Regional Planning Director Chad Nabity thinks the addition of a new Highway 281 sewer line south of Grand Island may translate into measurable growth from city limits to Interstate 80.
“It starts to connect the city to the I-80 interchange,” Nabity said. “And if you look at the cities across Nebraska that are connected to the interstate, that’s where the growth is occurring.”
The interstate passes through the cities of Omaha and Lincoln, but other cities such as Gretna, York, Aurora, Kearney, Lexington and Sidney have grown out to the interstate on purpose.
“The interstate is a money train ... connecting New York to San Francisco,” said Sidney City Manager Gary Person.
Sidney leaders took a “leap of faith” in 1986, 13 years after the city’s interchange completion, to extend city sewer, water and electric service three miles to Interstate 80, he said.
“Your primary growth and development doesn’t happen without proper infrastructure,” Person said.
By 1987, a McDonald’s and Sapp Brothers truck stop developed at the Sidney interchange. In 1991, Cabela’s added a retail store there, and growth has continued with about two to three projects every year, he said. It’s made a “phenomenal” change to the town of about 6,800 that had been losing jobs and population for 40 consecutive years.
“Ever since that happened, Sidney has basically tripled our economy and I mean that in the sense of retail sales. Our lodging receipts have grown by 1,000 percent. Our valuation has tripled for both the city and the county,” Person said.
“It just puts you on a completely different level.”
Grand Island Area Chamber of Commerce President Cindy Johnson believes that phenomenal growth could happen in Grand Island too, with the reach of city services along Highway 281 south to Interstate 80.
“It’s much easier to capture those 20,000-plus vehicles that are cruising by our exits on a daily basis if it has development at the interstate exit and it has strong development,” Johnson said.
Travelers make judgments about a community and an interchange exit based on the amount of development and the quality of development, she said.
New buildings or even older, well-cared-for buildings look vibrant. So do a number of buildings and lights.
“Travelers will see Grand Island as closer and the additional development will bring more people off the interstate,” Johnson said. “And when they come off the interstate, they bring their wallet with them and that’s a good thing for Grand Island to have the extra commerce and activity.”
Person said Sidney began to look like “an oasis on the plains” after city services were extended to its interstate interchange and shiny new buildings and bright lights went up.
“It draws a lot of people in to stay,” he said. “We have $300 million of new projects on the ground moving forward.”
The growth has increased per capita wages in Sidney. It has added jobs and lots of new construction, from motels to new housing subdivisions.
“We’re kind of a victim of our own success — we have housing and labor issues now,” Person said. “We can’t build enough housing, and to recruit labor you’ve got to have places for people to live, but I’d rather have those problems than people standing in soup lines.”
By popular demand
But Grand Island’s decision to extend a city sewer line didn’t come on its own. Highway 281/Interstate 80 businesses petitioned the city to create a sewer improvement district after private sewer leachfields began to fail and businesses had few to no options for new private services.
The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality even supported the city sewer line extension and is helping provide a low-interest bond to businesses to afford the project.
City engineers had estimated the more than two-mile sewer line extension would cost about $2 million, but bids opened March 24 ranged from $2.2 million to $3.1 million.
Grand Island Public Works Director John Collins said the city decided to use a less costly installation method and determined less dewatering was needed for the project. Those changes brought the project cost down to $2.18 million.
The city council awarded the construction contract to Myers Construction of Broken Bow on May 12. Myers workers have already started laying out the 36-inch-wide sewer pipe on the west side of Highway 281 from Wildwood Drive to the south side of Interstate 80.
Not only will that line be able to serve the half-dozen businesses that petitioned for it, but it has excess capacity to serve other businesses on the north and south sides of I-80 that may want to connect into city services in the future, Collins said.
Next comes water?
Johnson said she expects that city water will be added along Highway 281 in the future as well.
Grand Island Utilities Engineer Tom Barnes said the south Highway 281 water line is on the “long-term plan ... the 20-year plan.”
At an estimated $600,000 per mile of water line, the 2.5-mile water line project would cost about $1.5 million and take about a year to build, Barnes said.
“We have not had a request for water along there and it is outside of city limits,” he said.
Collins said the sewer line extension should be completed by April 2016.
The completion of city services will provide new opportunities for Grand Island, Johnson said.
“If you look at our community’s growth, (Highway) 281 is certainly where it’s been as far as commercial development,” she said. “It’s going to happen — it’s the next logical place for development.”
Person predicted that extension would make Grand Island all the stronger and bring more attention to an already unique community with many resources and things going for it. It would fill in farmground with an urban landscape.
“One thing that you’ve had working against you over the years is that there is that (2.5-mile) gap,” he said. “When you close that gap in, it moves your community on a whole new level of development and potential prosperity.
“It makes a statement about the community and its future,” Person said. “It shows the commitment the community has to make things happen.”
Grand Island Area Economic Development Corp. President Dave Taylor said the city services will create a variety of “shovel-ready” development areas for businesses to locate.
Johnson and Nabity said hotels, motels and restaurants will likely be first to come, but Johnson said some “destination retail,” such as a Cabela’s, might be a possibility, too.
“The advantage to the city getting down there is there is a lot of retail trade that occurs at the interchange and if that was subject to city sales tax, that’s a lot of tax dollars for people who ostensibly won’t use a lot of city services,” Nabity said.
He praised the Bosselman Truck Stop, which includes Motel 6 and Quaker Steak and Lube, as a superior development that gives a sense of arrival now.
But the addition of city services will allow even more development along south Highway 281.
Johnson said adding in development incentives, such as tax-increment financing or Local Option Municipal Economic Development Program funds, could spur development to occur at a faster pace.
“I’m hoping we can do it in 20 to 25 years, at least one side, and really make that connection,” Nabity said.
“It’s proven to be a brilliant decision in the long run (for Sidney) and we’re continuing to develop our interstate,” Person said.