I-90 Interchange project receives $9 million federal grant

Bozeman Daily Chronicle

by Jodi Hausen

Officials working on the Interstate 90 East Belgrade Interchange project were elated Tuesday to learn they were getting an $8.976 million federal grant. The money puts the project on a fast track for state approval, despite a shortfall of up to $1.1 million.

“This makes the project a go,” Gallatin County Commissioner Bill Murdock said. “We’re talking pennies now. We’re in shouting distance.”

“It’s good to finally see this opportunity come through,” said Gallatin County grants administrator Larry Watson, who   wrote three applications for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant. The U.S. Department of Transportation denied the previous two applications.

Sen. Jon Tester explained the importance of the project in a March letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is expected to board nearly 800,000 passengers annually and infuses an estimated $282 million into the region’s economy, he wrote.

“Traffic congestion, however, has reached a saturation point on local roadways,” he continued. And public safety is “highly compromised” due to ground-level railroad crossings.

The estimated $37.4 million project will add an exit and entrance to I-90 directly from the airport and will include access to Alaska Frontage Road to the south.

Local groups including Gallatin County, the city of Belgrade and the airport authority formed a partnership in 2005 and in February pledged $7 million toward the project.

But as of last month, the project was $10 million to $11 million short.

Anticipating another TIGER grant denial, Watson and others asked the transportation commission to make up the difference. The commission is responsible for funding and scheduling state transportation projects.  Debra Youngberg, Belgrade Chamber of Commerce executive director, said transportation commissioners didn’t seem inclined to grant the request.

“They thought Montana State University, the city of Bozeman and Montana Rail Link should have put some money into it,” she said.

County commissioners sent letters to Bozeman commissioners and MSU on Tuesday asking for their contribution, Murdock said.

“I can’t imagine what kind of support we’ll get,” he said. “But we had to ask.”

Regardless, the project seems poised to go forward.  

Transportation Commissioner Rick Griffith called Tuesday’s announcement “exciting.”

“That makes this project a whole lot easier,” he said, noting he was only one vote on the five-person commission. “I think the commission will be happy to see this project on its way.”

Several million dollars in state funds have already been spent on design and engineering to make the project eligible for the TIGER grant.

Officials said they believe the transportation commission will come up with the additional funding.

“We’re not going to let that project fail for a small shortfall,” Griffith said.
Airport Director Brian Sprenger was also confident the project would go forward.

“The reason we were successful was the amount of local participation and everyone putting in a significant amount of money,” he said. “It sets the stage for how things will be done in the future. Local communities will have to step up.

He added that “it didn’t hurt to have the involvement of our senators.”
“There’s no doubt about it: This is a big deal for Gallatin County and businesses throughout this corridor,” Sen. Max Baucus said Tuesday in a prepared statement. “This is the kind of investment that will support good-paying jobs right away and improve infrastructure for generations to come.”

Officials anticipate breaking ground on the project next year.