History of the Nebraska Department of Roads
The Nebraska Department of Roads has evolved from the State Board of Irrigation, the latter being created on April 4, 1895 when Governor Silas A. Holcomb signed H. R. 443 which had the emergency clause. That was over a century ago and since then, there have been many organizational changes.
In 1911, the Legislature changed the board's name to the State Board of Irrigation, Highways, and Drainage. And, the 1919 Legislature changed the board's name to the Department of Public Works. In the same year, the registration of motor vehicles, which was begun by the Secretary of State in 1913, was transferred from that office to the Department of Public Works. The department was then composed of two bureaus and one headquarters division: the Bureau of Roads and Bridges; the Bureau of Irrigation, Water Power, and Drainage; and the Motor Vehicle Records Division.
While the department's field divisions varied from five to ten from 1919-24, they stabilized at eight in 1925 and their headquarters were located as follows: Divisions 1 and 2 (Lincoln), Division 3 (Norfolk), Division 4 (Grand Island), Division 5 (Scottsbluff), Division 6 (McCook), Division 7 (North Platte), and Division 8 (Ainsworth). Although field Division 2 was responsible for 10 counties in the east-central (Omaha) area, its headquarters was in Lincoln.
Although the 1933 Legislature changed the department's name to the Department of Roads and Irrigation, the department was still composed of the same two bureaus: the Bureau of Roads and Bridges and the Bureau of Irrigation, Water Power, and Drainage. The Bureau of Roads and Bridges was subdivided into four headquarters divisions: Road Construction and Maintenance, Maps and Plans, Clerical and Records, and Motor Vehicle Registration. Also in 1933, the field Division 5 headquarters was transferred from Scottsbluff to Bridgeport.
The 1937 Legislature created within the department, the Division of Highway Safety and Patrol, to be known as the Nebraska Safety Patrol. In 1942, the department was composed of the Bureau of Highways; Bureau of Irrigation, Water Power, and Drainage; Motor Vehicle Division; and the Safety Patrol. In 1954, the responsibility for operation of the Scale Section and 12 weighing stations was transferred from the Safety Patrol to the Bureau of Highways.
The 1957 Legislature divided the Department of Roads and Irrigation into three separate state agencies: the Department of Roads, Department of Motor Vehicles, and Department of Water Resources. The Department of Roads was composed of the Bureau of Highways (four headquarters divisions, eight headquarters sections, eight field divisions) and the Safety Patrol. In 1967, the Legislature changed the name of the Nebraska Safety Patrol to the Nebraska State Patrol.
In 1968, the field Division 2 headquarters was transferred from Lincoln to Omaha. Since 1969, field divisions have been called districts. Also in that year, District 6 (McCook) and District 8 (Ainsworth) were made sub-districts of District 7 (North Platte) and District 3 (Norfolk), respectively. At the same time, District 7 (North Platte) was renumbered and became District 6. - v - The former McCook district was reinstated in 1971 as District 7 and, in 1977, the former Ainsworth district was reinstated as District 8.
The 1981 Legislature made the Nebraska State Patrol a separate state agency and the 1985 Legislature reassigned the Carrier Enforcement Division from the Department of Roads to the patrol. In 1999, the Department of Roads has 17 headquarters divisions and 8 field districts, with support from the Attorney General (Roads Section of the Department of Justice) and advisory assistance from the State Highway Commission. The eight field districts are: District 1 (Lincoln), District 2 (Omaha), District 3 (Norfolk), District 4 (Grand Island), District 5 (Bridgeport), District 6 (North Platte), District 7 (McCook), and District 8 (Ainsworth).
The 2009 Legislature transferred the Office of Highway Safety to the Department of Roads on July 1, 2009.
(Preface, A History of the Principal Executives of the Nebraska State Highway Department)
- A History of the Principal Executives of the Nebraska State Highway Department (Revised April 2016)
- A Story of Highway Development in Nebraska (Revised 1997)
- Nebraska Historic Bridge Survey (May 2007)
- Nebraska Historic Highway Survey (August 2002)
- Nebraska Interstate Highway 80, Omaha - Lincoln (August 11, 1961)
- Road Laws of Nebraska (January 1, 1898)
- Crisis on the Highways (September/October 1948)
- Taking the High Road, by Christina Slattery and Steve Jacobitz (September/October 2004)
- History of the Interstate in Nebraska (June 2006)
For other historical information including photos and videos, visit memories.ne.gov