October 19, 1974
A ceremony was held to celebrate the completion of the last segment of Interstate 80 in Nebraska. This ceremony specifically took place five miles (8.05 kilometers) west of the city of Sidney in the Cornhusker State. Approximately 5,000 people showed up for the event. Nebraska Governor (and future U.S. senator) J. James Exon announced to the crowd, “It is the end of a long, long trail for dedicated people who worked on the I-80 project in Nebraska.”
The completion of I-80 in Nebraska made that state the first one to put the finishing touches on its share of the mainline Interstate Highway System. The final part of this east-west transcontinental highway, which covers a total of 2,899.59 miles (4,666.44 kilometers) between the New York City metropolitan area and San Francisco, was completed on the western edge of Salt Lake City in 1986. I-80 is the Interstate highway that most closely follows the coast-to-coast route of the historic Lincoln Highway. In addition, I-80 ranks second only to Interstate 90 (measuring 3,020.44 miles, or 4,860.93 kilometers, between Boston and Seattle) as the longest highway within the Interstate Highway System.
“Some say it is a historic day, and I agree that it is a most historic day, and it is an event we can be proud of,” said Exon during the late-afternoon ceremony commemorating the completion of the 455.3-mile (732-74-kilometer) section of I-80 in Nebraska. “We will remember it for a long time because it links the state east and west and soon Nebraskans will see another link, the East Coast with the West Coast.”
Other government officials in attendance included John Kemp, regional administrator for the Federal Highway Administration. He took time to commend the Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR), which is now part of the Nebraska Department of Transportation, for its work on the design and construction of I-80. “The Department of Roads has done a tremendous job,” said Kemp. “You have a wonderful highway. Use it safely and enjoy it.”
Thomas D. Doyle, NDOR’s director and state engineer, used his remarks to highlight the strong public support for constructing I-80 across the state. He proclaimed, “The people of Nebraska were very cooperative and are the real builders of the highway.”
The ceremony also had a “Golden Link” component echoing the golden spike that had been pounded into a train track in Utah back in 1869 to celebrate the completion of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. The “Golden Link” for the I-80 ceremony actually consisted of brass plates that had been designed by NDOR engineers Kenneth J. Gottula and O. Franklin Meier. These plates were embedded in and across the portions of the eastbound and westbound driving lanes where the last loads of concrete had been poured for I-80 in Nebraska. At the Sidney Eastbound I-80 Rest Area overlooking this location, a marker created by the Nebraska State Historical Society was formally unveiled.
Robert L. Munger, NDOR’s assistant public information director, composed the inscription on the marker. “Nebraska’s Interstate highway system is the most significant and the largest single public works project ever undertaken in this state,” notes part of the inscription. “Beginning 19 years ago on March 8, 1955 with a small portion near [the city of] Kimball, year by year and mile by mile it progressed steadily across the state.”
The section of I-80 in Nebraska enjoys several other distinctions. It is the only Interstate highway spanning from one end of Nebraska to another, for example. Other than a three-mile (4.8-kilometer) section of Interstate 76 near the Colorado state line, I-80 is also the only primary (two-digit) Interstate highway in all of Nebraska. In addition, the longest straight stretch of the entire Interstate Highway System is a segment of approximately 72 miles (116 kilometers) of I-80 between the vicinities of Grand Island and Lincoln in Nebraska.
Additional information on both the completion of Interstate 80 (I-80) in Nebraska and the state’s other highway history milestones is available at https://dot.nebraska.gov/media/1205/history-general.pdf.
For more information on the development of I-80 in its entirety, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_80.