Missoula Current: I-90 improvements, bridge replacement lands federal funding

Bridge repair on Interstate 90 in western Montana received a big federal boost last week, with $66 million directed to the work.

The funding was announced by Sen. Jon Tester and stems from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The measure was negotiated by five Republicans and four Democrats, including Tester.

“Roads, bridges, and highways in Montana are essential to keep our communities connected and our state open for business,” Tester said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to seeing these projects set the stage for safer and smoother travel in Mineral County and along I-90.”

Most of the work will take place in Mineral County, where the interstate crosses the Clark Fork River and other geological features. The projects include 5.7 miles of repair to both the eastbound and westbound lanes of I-90 and replacing the Alberton Bridge.

Funding from the measure for other Montana projects also includes $100 million for the Milk River project and $1 billion for several other rural water projects. It also includes funding to deploy broadband to underserved areas, and funding for wildfire mitigation.

Passenger rail also received funding, including $500,000 in seed funding for the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority and its acceptance into the Federal Railroad Authority’s Corridor Identification Program.

The funding calls on the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority to develop a scope, schedule and cost estimate for “preparing, completing, or documenting its service development plan.”

Rail authority chairman and Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said acceptance into the program also brings a commitment to future funds that will help push restoration closer to reality.

“With ridership on a restored North Coast Hiawatha line between Chicago and the West Coast estimated to be over 400,000 and projected economic benefits exceeding $270 million, restored passenger rail service constitutes an excellent return on our investment and would be a transformative project for our state,” Strohmaier said.