Construction of the North River Bridge at Sutherland is ahead of schedule, with officials hoping it might open for traffic this summer, which would be nine months or more in advance.

The new bridge will directly re-connect Sutherland with about 200,000 acres of farms and ranches in western Lincoln County and McPherson County, as well as more direct connections, especially for farm equipment, with the highways and roads in the Platte Valley.

Since construction began on Oct. 26, the crew has been working diligently to build the $5.4 million bridge.

“I’m extremely pleased with the progress,” said Lincoln County Commissioner Chris Bruns, who represents that area of the county.

When the new bridge opens, it will be the first time that modern, wide farm equipment will be able to cross the North Platte River at the Sutherland crossing.

The original, one-lane bridge was built in 1915 and remained the only way to cross the river at that location for 108 years. Farmers with wide equipment have had to drive 20 miles out of their way to Hershey and back, for decades to get from one side of the river to the other.

Since the old bridge closed and construction began, a Sutherland school bus has also made the twice-daily 20-mile detour. The Lincoln County taxpayers are reimbursing the Sutherland school district for the cost of the extra travel.

The majority of the overall cost of the new bridge is paid by state and federal funds. The funds, and the replacement bridge, have been a long time coming. Federal money is limited for bridge projects, and prioritized by the Nebraska Department of Transportation. Lincoln County applied for the funds for 20 years or so, but had to wait.

The project finally reached the top of the state funding list in 2014, but before the deal was consummated, the Missouri River flooded and the money had to be reallocated to rebuild a bridge that washed out in eastern Nebraska.

It was a slow climb back to the top of the list for the Sutherland project.

Bruns said when he was elected four years ago, the project essentially seemed dead. He said he and Lincoln County Highway Superintendent Jason Schultz worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and engaged with Sen. Deb Fischer to exert pressure from the federal level. The project finally moved ahead.

KEA Constructors, LLC, is in charge of construction. When bids were requested, KEA offered to build the bridge for $1 million less than the budgeted amount. The commissioners happily accepted their bid.

Sutherland residents were upset when, just a few days before the start of construction, it was announced that the old bridge would be immediately closed and demolished. In response to the uproar, the construction company promised to build the new one as quickly as possible. It appears that they are keeping their word.

The construction schedule calls for completion in June 2025. However, the crew has surpassed most every milestone to date, thanks to their diligent efforts and cooperative weather.

Bruns said uncontrollable variables may still arise, but he is optimistic. As of May 4, it appeared the bridge is ready for concrete paving.

“Needless to say, I am thrilled with that prospect, with the work and dedication of KEA and the county roads department,” Bruns said.

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