NIOBRARA, Neb. — After being closed five months, Nebraska Highway 12 west of Niobrara has re-opened for traffic.

The Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) announced the re-opening on Twitter late Friday night. The agency said it expected to release more information today (Saturday).

The Highway 12 bridge over the Niobrara River is open! One of (Nebraska’s) most complex emergency flood recovery projects has been completed ahead of schedule!” the tweet said.

The Twitter message said the 24-foot wide temporary single lane bridge will be managed using a temporary signal allowing one direction of traffic to cross at a time.

District Three engineer Kevin Domogalla told the Press & Dakotan Friday afternoon that final work was needed on the Niobrara River and the Mormon Canal bridges, which have remained closed to traffic since March because of flood-related damage.

The March flooding caused a one-two punch, creating significant damage to the approach and girders for the Niobrara River bridge and washing out the Mormon Canal bridge. Both structures provide key links for Highway 12 in western Knox County.

The NDOT had awarded a $44,170,911 contract to the Hawkins Construction Company of Omaha. The contract covered the 24-foot wide, single lane temporary bridge and the permanent bridge over the Mormon Canal and repairs to the existing bridge over Niobrara River.

The permanent Mormon Canal bridge is slated to open in 2020.

The NDOT has sought to complete the needed work for re-opening Highway 12 for now, with final work completed at a later date, Domogalla said Friday afternoon.

“The Niobrara (River) bridge is undergoing repairs. When open, it will be safe for travel with some repair work remaining on the closed lane of the bridge,” he said. “The Mormon Canal bridge, when open, will be a temporary bridge while they are building the new bridge.”

During the ongoing construction, another structure will remain in place that’s not intended for public use, Domagalla said.

“They have built another ‘bridge’ that is in place but is built solely for the construction equipment to be able to access and build the temporary bridge and the permanent bridge,” he said. “Once the new bridge is completed and opened to traffic, the temporary and contractor’s bridge will both be removed.”

Despite a number of challenges, the work has proceeded as planned, Domagolla said.

“The project has gone amazingly well. Hawkins Construction is very well organized and has remained on or ahead of schedule so far,” he said. “The new bridge is expected to be completed next fall.”

Nebraska Highway 12, a major east-west travel artery, has remained closed west of Niobrara since a March 13 bomb cyclone hit the region.

The bridge closures over the Niobrara River and Mormon Canal have cut off Highway 12 access west of Niobrara. As a result, the area has seen the loss of travel which has harmed retailers and has fallen during the key tourism and recreation season. The closed road has also affected cabin owners with homes at Lazy River Acres and other sites along the Missouri River.

The Ponca Powwow will be held this weekend on the grounds west of Niobrara. Tribal officials did not anticipate Highway 12 would be accessible for visitors and have posted a listing of alternative routes to reach the powwow grounds.

The NDOT has announced one other planned bridge re-opening near Yankton. The NDOT has awarded a $5,595,492 contract to Dixon Construction Company of Correctionville, Iowa, to begin replacement of the Nebraska Highway 121 bridge south of Yankton, just west of U.S. Highway 81.

Travelers have used Crest Road over Gavins Point Dam during the Highway 121 closure.

The bridge is anticipated to be opened to traffic by year’s end, and the remaining work will be done in 2020 to complete the project.

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