Today every state in the country has a mechanism for rescue of significant archeological and historic properties discovered in the path of highway construction and rehabilitation. Nebraska and New Mexico enjoy the distinction of developing the first such programs in 1959. At that time, federal legislation had not been enacted to cover this type of work. Nevertheless, planners and administrators at the Nebraska Department of Roads had vision and a keen sense of Nebraska's unique heritage.
Through a cooperative agreement, the Department of Roads and the Nebraska State Historical Society have teamed up to evaluate all bridges, standing structures, and archeological sites potentially impacted by construction. The Department of Roads provides Society archeologists and historians with construction plans several years prior to project construction. Staff then conducts background literature searches, in-field reconnaissance, and test excavations to locate historic sites and evaluate them for eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places. When such extraordinary sites are discovered, Society and Department of Roads Project Development Division staff work together to craft a mitigation plan. Because of the several year lead time, in many cases mitigation can be accomplished by minor redesign to avoid the property. If avoidance is too costly or otherwise not feasible, the Department of Roads funds investigations.
In the past decade, the Highway Archeology Program has evaluated over 1,000 proposed highway improvements, discovered over 200 previously unrecorded archeological sites, and photo documented hundreds of standing structures. The Department of Roads also completed an evaluation of all bridges in the state for their historic significance. About 100 were found to be eligible for the National Register. When these are scheduled for replacement, they will be recorded, moved, or preserved in place. In the rare cases when National Register-caliber archeological sites can not be avoided, systematic excavations are undertaken to recover valuable scientific information. Such information has advanced our understanding of past Plains cultures and increased tourism appeal. Examples of major excavations funded by the Department of Roads include: an 1870s pottery factory in Lincoln, a Civil War-era homestead, Pawnee Indian buffalo hunting camps, portions of historic territorial-period towns, and Native American villages.