Tester hears infrastructure priorities from Billings officials

by MTN News, Steele Stephens

As Congress begins drafting a new infrastructure bill, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester hosted a round-table discussion at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Hall to hear from Billings officials about their infrastructure priorities Friday.

Mayor Bill Cole, just ten days on the job, expressed a number of different projects he believed would benefit Billings if given federal funding.

Cole told Tester, a Montana Democrat, the federal government is good about getting federal money to the city but the allocation of those funds is lacking.

He expressed his desire to use federal money to widen Zimmerman Trail, redevelop the Billings Logan International Airport, redevelop the I-90 corridor, build a signature bridge to help brand Billings, develop an exit ramp to Coulson Park, and to support a TIGER grant renewal which was not awarded last year.

Other local officials put priority on a number of projects, including:

• Equipping Billings schools with the resources they need to prepare students for a 21st century work force – Karen Baumgart, BillingsWorks director

• Helping renovate and rebrand the Billings Career Center to help grow apprenticeship programs and certification opportunities for kids who want to pursue careers that don’t require four-year college degrees – Lew Anderson, career technical education business liaison

• Better broadband access for the healthcare industry in rural areas, explaining how current access limits teleradiology and mobile internet services – Beth Nordstram, director of information services for Beartooth Billings Clinic

• Using Montana labor to build out future infrastructural projects in the state – Henry Cellner, business manager for Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 30

At the end of the discussion, Tester gave an overview of the possible structure of the federal infrastructure bill.

He said he expected it would allocate $200 billion over a 10-year period with private funds attached. He said he thought the bill would be good for broadband buildout but questioned how effective it would be for transportation and water systems.

Tester said improved broadband infrastructure would help rural businesses and communities bring in more money and people. He also said the infrastructure bill could help improve federal buildings in Montana and roadways in national parks like Yellowstone.

“I thought we covered a myriad of issues today and I thought it was good… Hopefully, when the conversation starts on infrastructure, we’ll have a good list of where the priorities should be,” Tester said at the end of the round-table discussion.

After a brief tour of the union hall, the pipefitters gave Tester a welder’s jacket and gloves.

Tester is facing re-election this year for his third consecutive term.