Senate panel advances funding for alternate route for Billings Heights

Following tornado, measures will help fund Bench Boulevard, radio upgrade

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Just over a month after a tornado put public safety to the test in Montana’s largest city, Senator Jon Tester and his colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee have passed legislation that will help fund an alternate route into and out of the Billings Heights, Tester and Senator Max Baucus announced today.

The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act includes funding to help complete a construction project connecting Sixth Avenue North to Bench Boulevard, allowing users to bypass Main Street at peak traffic times, or in the case of a public emergency.

Currently, Main Street is the only direct way to get to Billings from the Heights.  The June 20 tornado forced the temporary closure of Main Street, leaving the 35,000 residents of the Heights virtually stranded.

The Appropriations Committee today also approved the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Act, which includes funding to help the City of Billings upgrade its outdated emergency radio system to better accommodate law enforcement, firefighters, medics and other emergency responders.

Billings Mayor Tom Hanel says the June 20 tornado highlighted the need for both investments in public safety. 

“The citizens of Billings and Yellowstone County are very grateful for the hard work of our Senators in securing the funds for the Sixth Avenue/Bench Boulevard project,” Hanel said. “When complete, the Bench Boulevard project will provide an alternate mode and improve transportation for the residents of Billings as well for the residents of the surrounding communities who visit Billings.  The recent tornado and horrific storm that crippled the flow of traffic in and out of the Billings heights is a stark reminder of how important this project is for the safety of all persons affected.”

Tester discussed the importance of appropriations funding for the Bench Boulevard project and other public safety priorities during a meeting with community leaders days after the tornado.

“Emergency responders in Billings impressed the entire country with their handling of this summer’s disaster,” Tester said.  “Investing in their ability to communicate, as well as an alternate route into and out of the Heights, will go a long way in better public safety for everyone who lives and works in the Magic City.”

“This is great news for the City of Billings and Yellowstone County,” said Baucus, who met with business leaders following the tornado.  “These are two very worthwhile appropriations that will make Billings safer.  I’m proud of this funding because it exemplifies a very smart use of federal resources in the name of public safety.”

Under the current legislation, the Montana Department of Transportation would receive $1 million for the Bench Boulevard Project.  The City of Billings would receive $500,000 to upgrade its radio system.  The legislation must first pass the full Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives before the funding can be signed into law.

For a full list of funding for Montana under the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Act, click HERE.

For a full list of funding for Montana under the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act, click HERE.

What is an appropriations bill?
  • A federal appropriations bill funds the federal government.  12 appropriations bills will fund the federal government for the next Fiscal Year.
  • Less than one half of one percent of these appropriations bills consist of congressionally directed funding (also called “earmarks”).  This funding is not additional spending for the federal government, nor does it increase federal deficit.  Rather, it is a set of directions telling the government where it must use existing funds.
  • In the past, appropriations funding had been abused by anonymous requests with little transparency.
  • Since 2007, the process was overhauled to guarantee transparency and fair debate in Congress.
  • All of Tester’s and Baucus’ appropriations requests are online HERE and HERE.