KBZK: Senator Tester visits Bozeman after 'once-in-a-generation' infrastructure bill passes US Senate

by Cody Boyer

Last week, an infrastructure package being hailed as a “once-in-a-generation” bill that would bring trillions of dollars to aging systems across the country passed the U.S. Senate, and Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) was on the bipartisan team that created it.

Sen. Tester was in Bozeman on Wednesday and discussed how the bill impacts us here in the Gallatin Valley.

In Washington D.C., they are calling it the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” for a reason.

Tester said at Bozeman City Hall the bill hits on all of those factors. If signed by President Biden, it could bring $2.8 billion to Montana, including part of that coming to Bozeman.

“Democrats and Republicans literally sat at an eight-foot long table and argued and fought and agreed and got something done,” Tester says. “Obviously, the ability to get our products to market is important; the ability to have good roads and bridges to support our travel industry is really important. It’s just pretty basic to our economy, all the way around.”

That “something done” is part of a $1.2 trillion dollar infrastructure package aimed to cover everything from highways, bridges, sewers, and airports, even broadband internet in hard-to-cover areas.

Senator Tester was joined by Bozeman Mayor Cyndy Andrus, City Manager Jeff Mihelich, and the deputy director of Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport, Scott Humphrey, to go over the impact this would have back home.

“This legislation creates jobs, not only the jobs that will be created putting this infrastructure in the ground, but also jobs that future generations will be able to take advantage of,” Tester says. “This is the biggest investment in this country’s history that is a non-crisis situation. It’s an investment that goes to things where people aren’t going to have to think a lot about how to utilize them because the needs are there and the needs have been there for a long time.”

“We can use this to create new sources of renewable energy, we can expand our electric vehicle charging station network, we can clean up contaminated sites such as the Idaho Pole site and we can expand high-speed internet, most importantly, to underserved communities in the city of Bozeman,” Mihelich says.

And Mayor Andrus points to another local problem that could see some benefit from the bill: affordable housing.

“It’s a huge issue and these funds will be able to build new roads and provide infrastructure which will encourage new housing development,” Andrus says.

Again, if the bill survives the House and is signed by President Biden, Montana would get roughly $2.8 billion.

Rural water systems would see $1 billion.

$144 million would go to airports around the state, $21.7 million of that dedicated specifically for Bozeman’s airport, one of the fastest-growing airports in the country, which announced more upgrades are planned, including another possible terminal expansion.

“We’ll board more passengers this summer, June, July, and August than we did the entire calendar year of 2011,” Humphrey says. “[We are planning] upgrades to our baggage system, general aviation development on our north side of our airport, support of our flight schools, improvements to navigation aids, upgraded fuel facilities, additional parking lots and yes, even probably another terminal expansion.”

Tester says he and a team of five Republicans and four other Democrats devised the bill, which passed 69-30 in the Senate.

On the other hand, Republican Senator Steve Daines criticized and voted “no” on the bill, citing the Congressional Budget Office, and saying the bill would add more than $250 billion in debt over the next 10 years.

Tester says this is not the case.

“This bill is fully paid for,” he says. “This does not add to the debt one penny. “It’s a bill whose time has long passed. I’ve been through three different administrations, four different administrations now and they’ve all talked about infrastructure but never have done it. They finally got it done and there’s more to do.”

The senator did say he doesn’t expect the bill to pass by the end of 2021 but says it is possible.

“The President will sign this bill as soon as the House signs it,” Tester says. “There’s no doubt in mind that he’s made that commitment. Now we just have to get the House to act as the Senate has already done.”