Flathead Beacon: Infrastructure Deal Delivers Federal Funds for Montana

by Micah Drew

Nearly four months after Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., visited Kalispell to tout the merits of a bipartisan infrastructure deal he predicted would deliver hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds to the Treasure State, the measure is finally awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature after passing both chambers of Congress.

The $1.2 trillion bill is the first major legislative effort to succeed under the Biden administration and has drawn the ire of numerous Republican lawmakers despite passing with bipartisan support, including a 69-30 vote in the Senate earlier this fall.

Although Tester has trumpeted the measure as a bipartisan success and a boon to Montana’s economy, his congressional colleagues have remained critical at every turn.

For example, Montana’s lone U.S. House representative, Matt Rosendale, released a statement calling the bill a “trojan horse” that pushed through social justice agendas while invading Americans’ privacy and paving the way, he said, for the upcoming larger Build Back Better spending bill.

“It is irresponsible for Congress to force the American taxpayer to fund an infrastructure bill that barely touches on infrastructure,” his statement said.

A Washington Post analysis shows the bill allocates anywhere from 40% to 80% of spending towards specific infrastructure projects depending on the definition of infrastructure, which many proponents expand to include upgrades to the electric grid, electric vehicle charging stations and expanded broadband access.

Montana’s Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines echoed Rosendale’s grievances when he voted against the bill in August, emphasizing the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis that pegged the bill as adding $256 billion to the nation’s deficit.

Tester, however, who was among a core group of bipartisan lawmakers to negotiate the sprawling spending bill, said the legislation secures a long list of wins for Montana.

“Montanans expect us to listen and deliver real results so I’m pleased to see that my historic bipartisan infrastructure package has passed the House and is on the way to the President’s desk for his signature,” Tester said in a statement following the bill’s 228-206 passage through the House. “This legislation will create good-paying Montana jobs, lower costs for working families, make it easier to do business in our state, and ensure we maintain our competitive edge.”

According to Tester’s statement, the bill includes a chunk of Montana-specific spending including:

  • $2.82 billion for Montana highways
  • $225 million for bridge repair and replacement
  • $114 million for airports
  • $15 million to study Amtrak passenger rail travel
  • $40 million for water, sewage and sanitation projects for the Blackfeet Tribe
  • $42.5 billion grant program for high-speed internet deployment
  • $3.37 billion for wildfire mitigation efforts

In addition, the bill allocates $1.73 billion specifically to the National Park Service to repair roads and bridges in parks like Glacier National Park and Yellowstone which continue to face maintenance backlogs.

Rosendale’s statement highlighted several of what he called the “most egregious” provisions in the bill.

One such provision is a minimum $1 million allocation to each state for Safe Routes to Schools programs, which according to the bill will ‘facilitate the planning, development and implementation of projects and activities that will improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption and air pollution in vicinity of schools,” and “encourage and enable” children to walk or bike to school.

Rosendale said the program uses children as “pawns to advance the Left’s radical climate change agenda,” and adds that walking to school is impractical in many rural areas.

However, based on the Safe Routes to School Initiative in the community of Evergreen, which recently received a grant from the Montana Department of Transportation, $1 million only covers approximately 4,200 linear feet of sidewalk build-out costs.

Another provision in the bill Rosendale drew attention to is $350 million for five years to create a wildlife crossings pilot program, which he said is part of the “left’s environmental agenda” to improve habitat connectivity.

The Federal Highway Administration reports that between one and two million collisions between vehicles and animals occur each year costing around $8.4 billion in expenses and causing more than 26,000 human injuries, and a State Farm Insurance study ranked Montana as No. 2 in the nation for wildlife-vehicle collisions. More than a decade a go, a project to widen a 50-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 93 on the Flathead Indian Reservation south of Flathead Lake was supported by tribal members only after it was amended to include 42 wildlife crossings.

Researchers from Montana State University’s Western Transportation Institute have used 14 years of data to “definitively state that U.S. 93 North crossing measures have reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions,” and have recorded 22,648 successful animal crossing per year across 29 monitored structures.