Lincoln South Beltway could strain first responders in rural communities

LINCOLN, Neb (KLKN) – At the opening of the South Beltway on Wednesday morning, Nebraska officials said as much as 75% of semi-truck traffic could move off Lincoln’s streets and onto the new road.

But that will pose a challenge for fire departments in Hickman and Bennet, which will now be handling more traffic, and therefore more crashes, in their jurisdictions.

“We have a section of Highway 77 that’s been in our district forever, but this is gonna bring a whole ‘nother volume of traffic that we really haven’t experienced before,” said Chief Art Robertson of Hickman Rural Fire and Rescue.

He said the increase in calls will put a strain onto its volunteers, especially when there’s dangerous weather.

“Like any volunteer organization, we’re always running right at the edge of not having enough folks, and so this is just gonna add to that demand,” he said.

To adapt, the department is recruiting more firefighters and emergency medical technicians as well as training its current workers.

Robertson said the department also started a program called Out of District Membership, which allows people living outside Hickman to volunteer.

He said people who work remotely or have flexible schedules can volunteer to spend their time at the station and help out with calls.

Bennet Fire and Rescue Chief Tim Norris said that the new roads will change how people get to their destinations and that it will take some time for drivers to adapt.

“We’ve got some pretty good curves in our area, so that 120th Street area, we get a lot of snow and ice in that zone, so with the curve, there could be some additional accidents we have,” he said.

Norris said the department will be training to figure out the best ways to get on the beltway and respond to emergencies, especially when it comes to traffic heading into Bennet.

“And not all the exits are open yet, so I think that area right there could be a little interesting for trucks and everybody else that are used to the old way,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Homeowner says some trucks are getting lost on new Lincoln South Beltway

Norris said the department is “absolutely” prepared to handle the extra traffic, but it will require them to extend the processes they already use on the newly renamed Nebraska Parkway to the beltway.

He said fire departments could always use more volunteers, not just in Bennet but throughout Lancaster County.

SEE ALSO: Bennet Fire and Rescue seeks volunteers not ‘afraid to get their hands dirty’

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