Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Tester, Bozeman officials laud $1 trillion infrastructure bill

by Nora Shelly

Bozeman city officials are hoping the “once in a generation” infrastructure spending bill will fund a wide range of projects and ease pressures the city’s growth has put on its infrastructure.

The $1 trillion bill, which passed the Senate last week and has yet to be taken up by the House, would make “urgently needed” infrastructure investments, Montana’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said Wednesday morning during a press conference at Bozeman City Hall. Bozeman Mayor Cyndy Andrus and City Manager Jeff Mihelich both said the funds could be used for a number of different projects in the city.

If the bill is passed, Montana would get $3 billion for roads, bridges and highways, Tester said, and $144 million for airports. Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is slated to receive $21.7 million of that portion of funds.

Tester, who was part of a bipartisan group of senators who negotiated the bill, said he is hoping the House approves the bill and sends it to the president’s desk.

“We’ve been living for too long on our grandparents’ and our parent’s infrastructure,” Tester said. “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.”

The bill’s fate in the House is up in the air – Democrats are fractured over whether to vote on the infrastructure bill by itself, or to wait on a proposed $3.5 trillion broad social policy bill.

Tester said he is pushing for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring the infrastructure bill to the floor and to vote on it by itself.

“I think the sooner we get this done, the better,” Tester said.

There is not a confirmed number on how much of the money would come directly to Bozeman. But if passed as is, Tester said the bill doesn’t set up any new programs or disbursement methods. There would simply be more money available in the traditional outlets for infrastructure spending, Tester said.

Scott Humphrey, deputy director of the airport, said during Wednesday’s press conference that the $21.7 million the airport would receive would help it with plans it has for upgrading the bag system, general aviation development to support flight schools, improved navigation aids and fuel facilities, added parking and potentially another terminal expansion.

The bill includes funds for water projects, including the Milk River Project in northwestern Montana, and for broadband, wildfire risk reduction work and other infrastructure uses.

Andrus said the city could use some of the money to fund roads and infrastructure for affordable housing projects, to build a broadband system or to help repair failing septic systems in and around the city that threaten groundwater.

“As one of the fastest growing communities in the country, and located in the fastest-growing county in Montana, we have numerous infrastructure projects that we will be able to complete or begin because of these infrastructure dollars in this bill,” Andrus said.

Mihelich applauded the bill for including funding for both traditional infrastructure, like water, sewer, bridges and roads, and non-traditional things like broadband and climate planning.

Mihelich suggested a few uses for the funds, including creating new sources of renewable energy, expanding the city’s electric vehicle charging network, expanding high-speed internet and cleaning up sites like the Idaho Pole yards.

“This bill addresses Bozeman’s highest priorities, affordable housing, climate action planning resiliency and public safety,” Mihelich said.

Tester said the bill isn’t a cure-all and that more investment in affordable housing and climate change is needed. But Tester said the bill is overdue.

“It’s a bill whose time has long passed,” he said.