Flathead Beacon: What Montana Gains from Congressional Infrastructure Bill

Sen. Jon Tester worked with a group of nine senators to strike a deal on $1.2 trillion in infrastructure spending; House now set to debate measure

by Micah Drew

After months of negotiations by a bipartisan group of senators, including Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, the U.S. Senate passed a “once-in-a-century” $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill by an overwhelming 69-30 majority on Aug. 11.

“I worked with Republicans and Democrats to negotiate this package because Montanans have lived off our grandparents’ infrastructure for decades, hurting our ability to grow our economy,” Tester said in a video statement following the bill’s passage. “This package will create jobs and help us maintain our competitive edge over China by making once-in-a-generation investments in our state’s roads, bridges, airports, water systems, and high-speed internet-all without raising taxes.”

According to a White House press release, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Montana a C grade on its infrastructure report card, underscoring the need for investment in the state.

The bill earmarks hundreds of millions of dollars for the state across transportation, water, and broadband infrastructure as well as fire, flood and drought mitigation nationwide.

Much of the bill is dedicated to what Tester calls “traditional infrastructure.” A breakdown by the White House and Tester’s office shows thatMontana is expected to receive roughly $2.8 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs over five years. Montana is estimated to have 377 bridges and 1,485 miles of highway rated in poor condition.

In addition, the bill includes $144 million for Montana airport infrastructure grants, $164 million for public transit and $1 billion for rural water projects across the West, as well as $2.5 billion for Native American water rights settlement payments, which for Montana would include $300 million for a settlement with the Blackfeet Tribe that was authorized in 2018.

One of Tester’s priorities in office has been championing long distance rail travel and he was instrumental in getting the Empire Builder Amtrak line back to full service after months of running just three days a week due to COVID-19.

The bill includes $15 million to study Amtrak long-distance passenger rail travel and to advocate for increased access as well as money to improve safety at rural rail crossings.

One of the biggest chunks of spending is a $42.45 billion grant program for broadband investment across the country, which includes $100 million allocated to each state for the planning and proposal stage.

The bill also builds out a national network of electric vehicle chargers to facilitate long distance travel, of which $43 million is expected to be earmarked for Montana.

Montana Sen. Steve Daines voted against the measure, citing the price tag, which the Congressional Budget Office announced would increase the federal debt by $256 billion.

“Montanans were told and promised that this massive, 2,700-page bill would not increase the debt,” Daines wrote in a press release. “This is absolutely unacceptable, especially at a time when Montana families are already dealing with soaring inflation and skyrocketing prices on everything from gas to groceries.”

The U.S. House is expected to vote on the infrastructure bill by Sept. 27 after advancing the bill, along with a $3.5 trillion budget resolution, on a 220-212 party line vote on Tuesday.