BEATRICE, Neb. -- A federal grant is expected to turn a long-discussed project to enhance downtown Beatrice into a reality.

The city recently was named a recipient of a $21.4 million grant from the federal infrastructure bill, which will be used to reroute U.S. Highway 136 one block south, around the downtown core, to make that area more pedestrian- and festival-friendly.

An official with the Main Street Beatrice program, which is leading redevelopment efforts, said that moving semi-truck traffic off the east-west highway, known as Court Street, in the center of downtown will allow the community to string holiday lights, install public art, benches and landscaping, and more easily shut off the street for festivals and events.

“It opens up a world of opportunities,” said Morgan Fox, executive director of Main Street Beatrice.

Tobias Tempelmeyer, Beatrice’s city manager, echoed that sentiment.

“It’s a very transformative project for us,” he said.

The grant money is coming from the federal Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity program, or RAISE, which is part of the bipartisan infrastructure program passed under President Joe Biden.

The RAISE program has granted more than $7.2 billion to about 550 projects across the country, including one other in Nebraska.

That is a $750,000 grant to Lincoln County to study alternative routes for freight traffic and improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists’ infrastructure, and support the ongoing development of the Nebraska International Port of the Plains, which is being developed near North Platte.

In Beatrice, rerouting Highway 136 has been discussed for several years, but it always included concerns about how to finance such a project, as well as questions about whether rerouting the east-west highway along Market Street, one block to the south, might harm restaurants, bars and others businesses along Court Street.

The city already has designated truck routes around Court Street, but the routes are voluntary, and few truckers traveling east-west used them, according to Tempelmeyer.

Gov. Jim Pillen, in a recent press release, congratulated Beatrice on obtaining the grant funds, noting the assistance from the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

“I’m proud that Beatrice leaned into this opportunity and appreciate NDOT’s efforts to support them in making the project a reality. It’s a big win for Nebraska,” said Pillen, who has called for increasing use of federal grant funds.

The $21 million grant will be used to redesign and reconstruct the highway and to add pedestrian and cyclist safety features, the press release said.

Tempelmeyer said a formal vote to accept the federal grant will be taken by the Beatrice City Council in the next couple of months.

After that, he said, the city will hire an engineering firm to design the approximately six block rerouting. It will be at least two years, Tempelmeyer estimated, before work to reroute the highway and to beautify Court Street will begin.

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