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Deb Cottier

Deb Cottier

For only the third time in its 25-plus-year history, the Heartland Expressway Association has elected a new board chairman.

Deb Cottier, executive director of the Chadron-based Northwest Nebraska Development Corporation, was elected chairman of the not for profit organization’s Board of Directors this month. She takes the reigns from long-time Chairman Lane Danielzuk, city administrator of Gering. Chelsie Herian, executive director of the Alliance-based Box Butte Development Corporation, was elected Vice Chair. Megan Koppenhafer with the Panhandle Area Development District was elected Secretary-Treasurer. The board recently updated their by-laws to provide for more frequent changes in leadership. Cottier, who will serve a 2-year term with opportunity for one additional term said the idea came from the members of the Board.

“We thought it was only fair to share the responsibility of committing the time and effort to leading the board among those who currently serve. We have perhaps taken advantage of Lane’s willingness to Chair the group by not considering asking others on the board to step up,” she said. Danielzuk was applauded for his leadership the past 10-plus years.

The Heartland Expressway Association (HEA) is an organization of communities, counties, businesses and individuals who have the same goal; paving a four-lane, divided highway through the western part of the state from Colorado to South Dakota. The corridor, federally designated as ‘high priority’ by Congress, also includes some miles in Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming. The HEA is also part of a larger, multi-state coalition called the Ports to Plains Alliance, which includes two other high priority corridors known as the Ports to Plains Expressway (in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado) and the Teddy Roosevelt Expressway (in northern SD, North Dakota and Montana).

The HEA provides information and advocacy to Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) and to the federal Congressional delegation and US FHWA. The board provides letters of support for projects, lobbies in both Lincoln, NE and Washington, DC and acts as a liaison between communities and the entities that fund highway construction.

Starting in the late 1990s as a small group from the Scottsbluff-Gering area wanting to attract more business and investment from the Front Range of Colorado, the group has welcomed the growth of the organization to include the states of Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming. They incorporated into a 501(c)6 organization in 2008. The HEA is also a member of the 4Lanes 4Nebraska group headquartered in northeastern Nebraska.

Membership from communities and counties makes up the bulk of the membership on a per capita contribution. There are also private business members. Each contributing entity can have a seat on the board of directors. This year also sees several long-time active participants stepping down, due to retirement from offices held. Mayor Mike Varney from Torrington, Mayor Kent Greenwalt from Terrytown and Commissioner Mark Masterton will be leaving the board.

“It’s hard to estimate the number of hours these dedicated public officials have given to HEA, but I’m sure it’s in the thousands for each of them,” said Cottier. The effort has resulted in improvements, including the most recent announcement of $18.3 million grant for the next phase of the route on US Highway 385 south of Alliance. There has also been significant progress made from Kimball to Gering/Scottsbluff to the remaining piece along L62a from Minatare to the US 385 junction. HEA was recognized by state officials as the go-to organization when they considered prioritizing the exact portion next on the State Improvement Plan. Both Lt. Governor Mike Foley and NDOT Director Kyle Schneweis attended the HEA annual meeting in August and shared their appreciation for the organization’s efforts.

HEA helped lobby for the creation and retention of the Build Nebraska Act, the increase in fuel taxes, the creation of the Transportation Enhancement Act, all at the state level, as well as items included in the federal transportation laws of the past 20-plus years.

“The future appears bright as we work to understand and advocate for the best ideas coming out of Washington. We do our best to build the relationships that will pay off for Western Nebraska and the Heartland Expressway system we have been working to build,” added Cottier.

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