Nebraska Road Network

By | October 13, 2022

Nebraska’s major road network is very thin.

Nebraska’s road network is dense in the east and thin in the west. This has to do with the agricultural history of Nebraska, the state was developed from the agricultural areas that were divided into a grid in the east. Every mile there was an intersecting road. Later, parts of this grid were developed as tarmac roads, resulting in a relatively dense road network in southern and eastern Nebraska. On the High Plains and the Sandhills there was less opportunity for agriculture and the road network is not divided into a dense grid, although the roads in principle run east-west and north-south.

Interstate Highways

By far Nebraska’s most important freeway is Interstate 80, which runs west to east across the state, following the South Platte River and later the Platte River between the Wyoming border and Grand Island. East of Grand Island, I-80 follows a route that passes through the state capital of Lincoln before the highway branches off to Omaha. The portion in Omaha has up to 2×6 lanes and is Nebraska’s widest highway.

Interstate 76 runs just a few miles in the state of Nebraska around Julesburg and is a branch for traffic from Omaha to Denver, Colorado. In addition, there are some auxiliary highways of the Interstate Highway network. Interstate 180 is a short spur that connects downtown Lincoln to I-80. In Omaha, there is Interstate 480 through downtown and Interstate 680 as west and north bypass. In the far northeast of Nebraska, Interstate 129 loops around South Sioux City. Nebraska is the only state of the 48 contiguous states that does not have a north-south Interstate.

  • Bittranslators: State overview of Nebraska, including geography, economy, population and history as well as introduction to major cities of Nebraska.

US Highways

Several US Highways pass through Nebraska. Traditionally, US 30 has been the most important, it largely follows the course of the Platte River through the state and was originally part of the Lincoln Highway. Due to the completion of Interstate 80, US 30 west of Grand Island is no longer important for through traffic.

US 20 traverses sparsely populated northern Nebraska from west to east. US 26 is a branch of US 30 in western Nebraska and leads through the town of Scottsbluff to the Wyoming border. US 34 is an agricultural route through southern Nebraska, passing few major towns, although US 34 does pass through the capital Lincoln.

US 75 is a major north-south route through the east of the state and is actually the counterpart to Interstate 29 in Iowa, which runs just across the border. US 75 is part freeway between Bellevue and Omaha. US 81 is one of the major north-south routes in Nebraska and is the main highway coming from Kansas. Several sections of US 81 are equipped with 2×2 lanes. In addition, US 81 has bypasses around most places, making it a fast north-south route. In western Nebraska, several US Highways form north-south routes, but these mostly pass through very sparsely populated areas. US 83. onlycontinues through the city of North Platte. Between Omaha and Fremont, the US 6 and US 275 are freeway. US 6 runs partly on overpasses in western Omaha.

  • Deluxesurveillance: Nickname of Nebraska as The Cornhusker State. Also covers geography, history, economy, politics and administration of the state.

State Highways

The state highways form the underlying road network and mostly serve local to regional traffic. Nearly all state highways are two-lane, the network being relatively dense in the south and east, and thinner in the center, west, and north of Nebraska. Although some state highways are still quite long, few state highways play a major role for through traffic. In western Nebraska, Highway 71 is designed as a 2×2 divided highway as part of the Heartland Expressway, a conceptual two-lane highway through western Nebraska. In southeastern Nebraska, Highway 2 a 2×2 divided highway between Lincoln and Nebraska City. The network of state highways is largely in a dense grid, especially in the southeastern half of the state.

2×2 roads

The 1988 expressway plan.

A network of 2×2 divided highways has been developed in Nebraska. These roads are at ground level but generally have few or no built-up areas on the route. With a speed limit of 65 mph, they often function as at-grade highways. There are very frequent intersections on these types of roads, but these are all irregular where traffic on the 2×2 road does not have to stop and often does not have a reduced speed limit. As a result, traffic on these types of roads can reach almost the same average speed as on the Interstate Highways. The largest number of 2×2 roads are in southeastern Nebraska, where there are more regional towns in the productive farming regions.

  • US 77 Lincoln – Wahoo 34 km
  • US 77 Lincoln – Beatrice 68 km
  • US 81 York – Chester 98 km
  • US 81 Columbus – Norfolk 82 km
  • US 281 Hastings – Grand Island 66 km
  • SR-2 Lincoln – Nebraska City 87 km
  • SR-71 Kimball – Scottsbluff 79 km

Road management

Highway 250 in the Sandhills.

The state highway authority is the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT). The Nebraska Department of Transportation operates approximately 10,000 miles of road and 3,500 bridges. The state highways are financed by the users, mainly fuel tax, vehicle registration tax and vehicle sales tax.

The NDOT has its origins in the State Board of Irrigation that was founded in 1895. Due to the rise of the automobile, the name was changed to the State Board of Irrigation, Highways, and Drainage in 1911 and the name was changed to the Department of Public Works in 1919. This was because of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916, which required each state to have a separate highway department (or equivalent) to obtain federal funding. In 1933 the name was changed to the Department of Roads and Irrigation. In 1957, this department was divided into three agencies, including the Department of Roads. It was then known as the Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) for 60 years. It was a slightly different agency, because it only dealt with the roads. The NDOR was not about aviation, waterways and vehicle registration. On April 27, 2017, the Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) and the Department of Aeronautics merged into the Nebraska Department of Transportation, more aligned with other states.

Toll roads

There are no general toll roads in Nebraska. Tolls are payable on a number of bridges over the Missouri River;

  • Bellevue Bridge
  • Plattsmouth Bridge
  • Decatur Bridge (Burt County Missouri River Bridge)



Nebraska’s road network was very underdeveloped in the late 1800s. There were virtually no roads suitable for driving cars outside the cities. Farmers had problems getting their products to market because of the poor road network. In 1905, there was not a single tarmac road outside the cities in Nebraska. Nebraska had 1 million inhabitants at the time, who lived mainly in rural areas. The 1904 Census of Roads determined that Nebraska had 127,854 miles of ‘road’, most of which were tracks in the prairies that made up the grid. divided, and were not suitable for intensive, heavy or fast traffic. Road management was originally the task of municipalities. In 1895 the State Board of Irrigation was created, which also included road development, although the focus was mainly on bridges in the early 20th century. In the early years, this agency took on the task of roads and vehicles. In 1905, the first new car registration tax was introduced, a tax of $1 per car. A speed limit was also introduced in 1905 and the first traffic rules were drawn up, as well as fines for breaking them.

The first cars and roads

The first car in Nebraska drove through the streets of Lincoln, the state capital, in 1902. By 1906 there were 1,000 cars in Nebraska and by 1910 there were over 10,000 cars. In response to the growth in car ownership, the responsible agency was renamed the State Board of Irrigation, Highways, and Drainage in 1911. The registration tax was raised to $2 a year and was used to build the county roads. In 1913, the Official Road Book of the Nebraska State Automobile Association was published. The speed limit was 10 mph in city centers, 15 mph in residential areas and 20 mph elsewhere.

In 1914, the state of Nebraska was determined to have three major highways; the ‘Meridian Highway’, a north-south route that today coincides with US 81, the ‘Lincoln Highway’ that followed the Platte River from Omaha through Fremont, Grand Island, and North Platte to the border with Wyoming (today US 30 ), and the ‘Omaha – Lincoln – Denver Highway’ or ‘OLD’ which followed a more southerly route through Nebraska, via what is now US 6 and US 34 to be. These roads were mostly unpaved, and in western Nebraska were characterized as deep-rutted trails. In 1915, a number of roads around the Lincoln State Agricultural School were hand-paved, the first road project in Nebraska to be commissioned by the state.

Roaring Twenties

year maximum speed remark
1905 20 mph ‘reasonable and proper’
1913 20 mph
1919 35 mph
1931 45 mph 35mph trucks
1937 50mph ‘reasonable and prudent’
1939 60 mph 50mph at night
1941 60 mph 50 mph at night, trucks 40 mph
1945 60 mph 50mph at night
1960 65 mph 55 mph at night
1962 75 mph rural interstate, 65 mph trucks
1974 55 mph National Maximum Speed Law
1987 65 mph rural interstate
1996 75 mph rural interstate, 65 mph 2×2 rural, 60 mph 1×2 rural

In 1916, Congress passed the Federal Aid Road Act. One of the requirements for federal funding was that states had to establish their own Department of Highways. In 1917, a plan was made for a network of 8,000 kilometers of roads connecting all county seats. However, the execution was somewhat delayed due to the American participation in the First World War. The first federally funded project in Nebraska was the construction of the Lincoln-Emerald road, which began in July 1918 and was completed in 1919 at a cost of $217,295. This was a 9 kilometer long road with bricks. By 1919, there were already 212,000 cars registered in Nebraska, a car ownership of 1 car per 6 inhabitants. In 1919, the Nebraska government was also reorganized and the Department of Public Works was created. This also included the Bureau of Roads and Bridges. In 1920 there were 5 regional divisions and 7,675 kilometers of roads that were financed by the state but under the control of the counties. Between 1919 and 1920 the first concrete road was built between Fremont and Ames over 10 kilometers. The construction cost $199,440.

In 1922, every county in Nebraska was given a vehicle registration number, which appears on the license plate. The numbers ran from 1 to 93, with Douglas County number 1 because it had the most cars registered here, and Hooker County number 93 because it had the fewest cars registered here. This system is still in use today, although in some of the most populous counties the number is no longer displayed on the license plate.

In the 1920s, more than $10 billion was spent on asphalting roads in the United States. Most states had to raise the level of tax significantly or go into debt to do this. Nebraska and Florida were the only two states that did not take on debt to build roads from. Nebraska also did not want to significantly increase the tax level, but the danger was that Nebraska would lag behind in the development of the road network. In the 1920s, priority was given to leveling dirt roads so that they could be driven comfortably at a higher speed. The priority was also given to gravel roads. It was argued that Nebraska had less rainfall than other states, reducing the need for asphalt or concrete pavements. In 1929, Nebraska had the 13th largest road network in the United States, although much of it was gravel. At that time, there were only tarmac roads in Lincoln, Omaha, and Grand Island. Outside of that, almost everything was gravel. Most of the work in the 1920s was still done by hand.

In 1925, the first fuel tax was introduced in Nebraska, 2 cents per gallon for building roads. In 1929 the excise tax was increased to 4 cents per gallon. A problem in the 1920s was that there was virtually no signage or signage. Only the Lincoln Highway and the Omaha-Lincoln-Denver Highway were signposted. In 1926, the system of US Highways was created, including US 30, US 6, and US 34 in Nebraska, which formed major east-west routes, numbering Lincoln Highway and OLD Highway. Shortly afterwards, the road number shield for state highways was designed. State Engineer Cochran made the design personal. He actually wanted a bison, but found out that the Canadian province of Manitoba already used this. That is why he chose a wagon, with which transport took place in Nebraska in the 19th century.

The Great Depression

Nebraska was hit hard by the Great Depression in the 1930s. The value of the land and agricultural output fell sharply. The 1930s was the only decade that Nebraska’s population shrank. In 1930, the Bureau of Roads and Bridges had eight regional divisions with a total of 15,691 kilometers of state highway, of which more than 11,000 kilometers were actually maintained. The largest part consisted of gravel roads or dirt roads, only 592 kilometers (4%) were paved. An advantage of the economic depression was that the costs of materials and labor fell sharply. Partly as a result of this, the share of maintained roads was able to rise by 13% in the early 1930s. It also became clear that asphalt was considerably cheaper than concrete as a road surface. In 1940, asphalt was estimated to cost an average of $4,727 per mile, while concrete cost $24,745 per mile. However, in the 1930s, many asphalt roads were built too cheaply, with only a thin layer of asphalt that later proved unsuitable for the heavier trucks and winter weather. More snow shovels were also purchased in the 1930s, and a special vehicle with a magnet that picked up fallen cargo such as nails and metal parts from the road. In the first year, an average of 1.5 kg of metal per mile of road was magnetized. As a result, motorists and truck drivers are less likely to get a flat tire. In 1933, the Department of Public Works was renamed the Department of Roads and Irrigation. More snow shovels were also purchased in the 1930s, and a special vehicle with a magnet that picked up fallen cargo such as nails and metal parts from the road. In the first year, an average of 1.5 kg of metal per mile of road was magnetized. As a result, motorists and truck drivers are less likely to get a flat tire. In 1933, the Department of Public Works was renamed the Department of Roads and Irrigation. More snow shovels were also purchased in the 1930s, and a special vehicle with a magnet that picked up fallen cargo such as nails and metal parts from the road. In the first year, an average of 1.5 kg of metal per mile of road was magnetized. As a result, motorists and truck drivers are less likely to get a flat tire. In 1933, the Department of Public Works was renamed the Department of Roads and Irrigation.

President Roosevelt’s “New Deal” in 1933 provided additional federal money for the states, much of which went to roads. The 1930s were ravaged by drought, heavy snowfall, floods and other natural disasters. Floods of the Republican River and Elkhorn and Platte River in 1935 damaged many bridges. During the 1930s, with federal aid in particular, a significant portion of Nebraska’s road network was paved. On November 5, 1935, a ceremony west of North Platte celebrated the final mile of the Lincoln Highway (US 30) being paved, finally giving the United States its first transcontinental tarmac road connection. The number of kilometers of paved road under state management grew from 592 kilometers in 1930 to 6.

The second World War

US 20 in Sioux County.

The rapid growth of road construction in the 1930s was followed by World War II, which began for the United States in late 1941. Road construction then came to an abrupt halt as road construction materials were needed by the US military. The level of maintenance went down considerably, an absolute minimum to ensure that the roads remained usable. Only very important projects could go ahead. The Strategic Network of Highways was established by the federal government during World War II. In Nebraska, these were three routes, US 75 from the Kansas border to Omaha, US 30 from Omaha to the Wyoming border, and a combination of US 81, US 275, and US 281 as a north-south route from the Kansas border to Norfolk, then via O’Neill to the South Dakota border. The granting of federal funding for roads was strictly regulated and from 1943 could only be awarded to projects that had a direct interest in warfare.

The first 2×2 divided highway in Nebraska was opened on December 8, 1941 between Fort Crook and Omaha over six miles. Fort Crook was home to the Glenn L. Martin Bomber Plant, which produced bombers including the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan. In 1942, a $500 million federal plan was announced for after the war. Planning for this investment was an important task of the Department of Roads and Irrigation in the last 3 years of the Second World War, as there was little else to do, almost all investment in road construction had stopped. In addition, many employees were called up for conscription. Due to lack of maintenance, the condition of the roads deteriorated considerably in the first half of the 1940s. In 1944 almost half of the paved road network needed maintenance.

In 1944, a new Federal Aid Highway Act was passed in the United States Congress. It established three categories of financing; the primary routes, where Nebraska had approximately 9,000 miles of eligible road, farm to market and other secondary roads, of which Nebraska had approximately 10,000 miles eligible, and urban roads, intended for places with more than 5,000 inhabitants. Nebraska then had 18 eligible places. However, the condition of the road network in the United States was even worse than expected and federal funding was inadequate to address this problem. Shortly after the Second World War, the costs of equipment and labor also started to rise sharply. In addition, there was a shortage of equipment. After the war, the Highway Advisory Committee was set up to identify upgrades that were necessary. It was determined that 11,000 miles of state highways needed to be addressed, and this would cost $259 million, an astronomical amount for a state accustomed to carrying out road projects worth $1 million or less.

In 1950, Nebraska had 15,411 miles of state highway, of which 7,057 miles was asphalt and the rest was mostly gravel. While the network of tarmac roads increased by more than a factor of 10 between 1930 and 1940, it was much smaller between 1940 and 1950, adding less than 1,000 kilometers of tarmac road. In 1949, legislation was passed by the governor that raised some taxes to free up extra money for roads. However, this was rejected by voters in a 1950 referendum by a narrow majority.

Interstate Highways

# length last opening
5 km 1969
733 km 1974
5 km 1977
5 km 1964
7 km 1970
21 km 1975

Nebraska was one of a large number of states in the central United States that did not have a single highway before the creation of the Interstate Highway system in 1956. The Interstate Highways were much more attractive to the states than previous federal funding. Before the 1950s, states typically had to contribute 50/50 towards the costs. For Interstate Highways, the share was only 10/90. For Nebraska, this meant that as of 1956, a sum of $168 million became available over three years to build Interstate Highways. This was a huge improvement for a state that typically thought in “hundreds of thousands.” Traffic in Nebraska was relatively small outside the cities, so the advantage of the Interstate Highways for Nebraska was not so much the high capacity,

The priority for Nebraska was Interstate 80, the state’s main highway, as an east-west route connecting nearly all major cities. Particular importance was given to the section between Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska’s two major cities. There were initial discussions as to whether I-80 should run north or south of the Platte River. A route south of the river was eventually chosen, and Lincoln’s location meant that I-80 in eastern Nebraska would run a great distance from the Platte River.

However, the first forerunner of an Interstate Highway was in western Nebraska, where a contract was awarded in December 1954 to build a 2×2 lane portion of US 30 between Kimball and the Cheyenne County border. This stretch opened to traffic in October 1955. This was not a full-fledged freeway, there were some intersections, but later I-80 was built directly over it and made grade separated in the 1970s. From December 1973 this was numbered as I-80.

The first contract actually awarded as an Interstate Highway (and thus as a freeway) was seven miles from I-80 along Gretna, southwest of Omaha. This section was awarded in June 1957 and opened in November 1959 as the first Interstate Highway in Nebraska. I-80 was then constructed at a very rapid pace over hundreds of miles across Nebraska. The Lincoln-Omaha highway was completed in 1961, and by 1964 a long stretch in the center of the state was completed for more than 180 kilometers. In 1966, I-480 was opened in downtown Omaha. In 1966, the I-80 was also passable over a long stretch. Between 1970 and 1974, it was built primarily on I-80 in far western Nebraska. The state was one of the first states to have completed an Interstate Highway over such a distance.

The last freeways in Nebraska were also opened during the 1970s, particularly in the Omaha region, where I-680 and US 75 were opened as freeways. Because Nebraska’s population is growing slowly, mostly around Omaha, there is no need to build new highways yet. In particular, I-80 serves virtually all major cities in the state, with the main exception being the town of Scottsbluff, which is near the Wyoming border, well north of Interstate 80. Rural Nebraska is steadily declining in population, while that of the metropolitan areas of Omaha and Lincoln is on the rise. Since 1990 the growth of the population has been somewhat stronger than in the 60 years before.

Later developments

year state highways asphalt/concrete gravel sand % hardened
1920 7,675 km ? km ? km ? km <1%
1930 11,073 km 592 km 7,659 km 2,822 km 5%
1940 14,481 km 6.121 km 7,697 km 663 km 42%
1950 15,411 km 7,057 km 8,145 km 209 km 46%
1960 14,935 km 10,594 km 4,238 km 103 km 71%
1970 15,648 km 14,335 km 1,258 km 55 km 92%
1980 15,897 km 15,574 km 323 km 0 km 98%
1990 16,006 km 15,879 km 127 km 0 km 99%

In 1960, Nebraska had a network of 14,935 miles of state highways. Of this, 10,594 kilometers were asphalted, 4,238 kilometers a gravel road and 103 kilometers a dirt road. In the early 1960s, the policy was to connect every town with at least one paved road. In 1961 there were still 70 villages without a connection to the asphalt road network. Between 1960 and 1968, the gravel road network was reduced to 10% of the length of all state highways. The design of non-motorways was also changed in the 1960s. Until the advent of the Interstate Highways, the roads were relatively simple, simple two-lane roads. Emergency lanes and parking lanes were still unknown. In the 1960s, many non-motorways were widened with half or full emergency lanes to make them safer.

Nebraska has long had a ban on issuing bonds for government spending. The state therefore had no significant debts. Road construction was financed through federal money and taxes. However, it had been clear for a long time that this form of financing was not adequate, but attempts to raise taxes failed time and again. In a referendum in 1968, a proposal to issue bonds received a narrow majority, making more money available for road projects. Nebraska was the first state to complete all planned Interstate Highways. In 1969, $20 million became available through the issuance of bonds, which were repaid over 20 years for the sum of $32.5 million.

The 2×2 Highway 71 between Kimball and Scottsbluff, part of the Heartland Expressway.

In October 1968, a proposal was made to the federal government to add 396 kilometers to the Interstate Highway network, namely an Interstate Highway from York to Salina, Kansas, a spur from I-80 to Grand Island, a spur from I-80 to Hastings, a route from Lincoln to South Sioux City and a route from Omaha beyond Fremont to join the Lincoln-South Sioux City route. However, the federal Bureau of Public Roads only approved Interstate 129 around South Sioux City for 2 miles.

Thereafter, efforts were made to build a 1,250 km network of freeways according to Interstate Highway design requirements and 2,340 km of two-lane roads to be prepared for 2×2 lanes, this was called the ‘freeway-expressway system’. It was hoped that Nebraska would become a transit route for traffic between Canada and Mexico. Ultimately, this plan was implemented with a reduced scope. The only freeway that has actually been built under this plan is US 275 between Omaha and Fremont.

In 1970, Nebraska had a network of 15,648 miles of state highways, of which 14,335 miles were paved and 1,258 miles were gravel. Another 55 kilometers was a dirt road. Compared to 1960, the situation had improved considerably, partly due to the construction of I-80. In the 1970s, road safety received more attention, especially through the installation of reflector posts. The last part of the gravel roads was also paved in the 1970s. In 1980, the length of Nebraska’s network of state highways was 15,897 miles, of which only 323 miles were gravel roads. In 1990, the state controlled only 127 kilometers of gravel road.

In 1988, a plan was drawn up to upgrade 587 miles of Nebraska road to an expressway, according to the MUTCD, this is a 2×2 lane road with varying degrees of grade separation. They are not full-fledged freeways. The plan was later scaled up to 1,000 kilometers. The goal was to connect all places with more than 15,000 inhabitants with the Interstate Highways by means of double-lane roads. In 1991, the Heartland Expressway was created to form a 2×2 divided highway through western Nebraska. First up between I-80 at Kimball and Scottsbluff is Highway 71 widened to 2×2 lanes. This was completed in 2005. A bill was signed in 2016 to complete the 1988 expressway plan, with $450 million being made available. The plan should be ready in 2033.

Road numbering

Nebraska first numbered its roads in 1921. The numbering was thoroughly changed in 1925, but due to the introduction of the US Highways in 1926, many changes were made to the numbering of the state highways in that year. Basically, the current road numbering is still based on that of 1925, with the necessary adjustments.

In 1957, spurs and links were numbered separately. Originally this was numbered in a system that added a third or fourth number to the existing road number of the intersecting road. In about 1971 the current system was introduced where the road was given the county number and a letter suffix. These are often secondary roads and usually they come to a dead end in terms of numbers. An exception is the Nebraska Link 28B, which forms a 3.4-mile freeway between US 6 and US 275 west of Omaha.

There is also a road numbering with recreational roads. Recreational roads are awarded by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, but are administered by the Nebraska Department of Roads. In principle, they are not signposted.

All highways are numbered in one system. If there is a US Highway or Interstate Highway with a certain number, there is no state highway with such a number. In principle, the state highways are numbered up to Highway 137, with the exception of Highways 250 and 370. Several numbers of the regular series are skipped. For example, Highway 3 does not exist because it was replaced by US 34 and US 136 in 1960.


I-80 has been widened in its entirety to 2×3 lanes between Lincoln and Omaha.

Congestion is virtually non-existent in Nebraska. It can be a bit busier in Omaha, but long traffic jams are virtually non-existent due to a lack of capacity, usually they have a special cause, such as a collision. The busiest point in Nebraska in 2010 was on I-80 in Omaha west of I-480 where 167,000 vehicles per day traveled in 2×6 lanes. Outside of Omaha, the intensities are low. The busiest interurban section is I-80 between Omaha and Lincoln, which has 40,000 to 60,000 vehicles. The intensities on I-80 gradually drop west of Lincoln from 25,000 to 15,000 vehicles as far as North Platte and just 7,500 vehicles in the Nebraska Panhandle. The quietest stretch of Interstate Highway is I-76 near Julesburg with 6,500 vehicles.

Many US Highways and state highways handle only 1,000 to 2,500 vehicles per day, on some major corridors up to 5,000 vehicles per day outside the towns. Many secondary roads handle less than 1,000 vehicles per day. In the wide northwest of Nebraska, several state highways handle only 100 to 200 vehicles per day. The quietest road in Nebraska’s administration is State Highway 16B south of Valentine where only 50 vehicles travel per day.

Nebraska Road Network