The Roundup -

Letter to the Editor: Action on Infrastructure


Joel Krautter

In President Trump's recent joint address to Congress, he called for a national time of rebuilding, while recalling the last great infrastructure undertaking in our country, the Interstate Highway System under President Eisenhower.

A few weeks ago I toured the modern marvel that is the Hoover Dam-an infrastructure investment that has provided irrigation for millions of acres, electricity for millions of homes, and which after 80 years, is still used today.

Here in Eastern Montana, we can quickly think of one infrastructure project that has been transformative for our region, the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project. None of the highways, dams, or irrigation canals mentioned above were cheap, but think how many livelihoods depend on them either directly or indirectly.

Today in Montana we are unfortunately facing challenges in funding basic infrastructure like roads and bridges. The Montana Department of Transportation is dealing with long-term shortfalls that threaten the safety of our roadways, through cuts to the Montana Highway Patrol of 27 positions, continued delays of long overdue highway projects, and by a loss of matching federal highway funds.

Long-term funding problems for our roads and bridges aren't new, but have been identified as being unsustainable with current funding sources since 2001.

Representative Frank Garner, R-Kalispell, introduced House Bill 473 to address these transportation funding problems. The proposal would generate an additional $64 million for road work by raising the fuel tax from 27 cents to 35 cents per gallon of gas, for the first time since 1994. The bill is supported by counties, municipalities, a coalition of non-governmental organizations, and a bipartisan group of local officials from across Montana.

This proposal would provide a sustainable funding model for the Department of Transportation for years to come, help Montana leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in matching federal highway funds (a ratio of roughly 7:1 federal dollars to state dollars, depending on the project) and send a greater amount of fuel-tax money back to counties and municipalities. The current fuel-tax allocation to be divided between all cities and counties-unchanged since 1983-is $16.7 million. HB 473 would increase this amount by $24 million.

What will HB 473 do for Eastern Montana? It will help fund the following MDT projects: $15 million upgrade of Hwy 200 between Sidney and Fairview, US 2 – Culbertson, 1-mile Major Rehabilitation, Savage N&S, 8-mile Overlay, Beaver Creek-Wibaux, 2-mile Bridge Replacement, Fairview-West, 6-mile Reconstruction, Bainville-East, 8-mile Reconstruction, SF-159 So Wibaux curve improvement, 5-mile Safety improvement, SF-169 S of Glasgow safety improvement, 1-mile Safety/Slope Flattening, and SF-149 Forsyth median barrier, 2-mile Safety/guardrail skid treatment.

Currently a mere $2.2 million has been spread out among 15 Eastern Montana counties each year, of the $16.7 million for counties and municipalities. HB 473 would increase this allocation to $5.4 million.

One may wonder why the gas tax should be raised 8 cents? It's due to a combination of factors-a rise in fuel efficiency standards and electrically enhanced cars have allowed drivers to travel more miles while buying less gas, coupled with a steady rise in the cost of road construction labor and materials. In calculating inflation on $0.27 in 1994, this would be the equivalent of $0.44 today, showing that a raise of $0.08 doesn't even keep up with inflation.

Montanans know we depend on our road system on a daily basis for hauling goods to market, traveling for work or pleasure and for bringing money into our state from the approximately 12 million tourists who visit every year.

Good roads and bridges are critical to a healthy economy and continued development of our state, counties, and municipalities. An 8 cent per gallon user fee raise after 23 years to ensure we continue to have the roads and bridges we need is reasonable.

Now is the time for area legislators to show political courage and stand with local government officials and citizens from across Eastern Montana who are counting on getting the job done this time. I urge you to contact your legislator to vote "yes" on HB 473 and together, let's send a clear message that we can all agree on properly funding and maintaining basic necessities like our roads and bridges.

- Joel Krautter


Reader Comments

MTJim writes:

Nice words, Joel. Glad to see some real leadership, for once, in Eastern Montana.


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