Opinion

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Guest Column

Let’s Make our Roads and Bridges Safer

As citizens, motorists, and business owners, we’re ready to invest in Montana’s infrastructure

Representative Frank Garner of Kalispell is to be commended for his vision and courage in sponsoring HB 473, that will make Montana’s roads and bridges safer while wringing more efficiency and accountability from the government entities that receive those new fuel tax dollars.

While it’s easy for some to sit back in the shadow of the newly constructed, $34 million Kalispell Bypass, and smugly express opposition to raising fuel taxes, Rep. Garner recognizes that a combination of new revenue and better efficiencies within the Montana Department of Transportation are needed to keep commerce flowing and motorists safe throughout the state.

Consider the financial investment it took to bring our new bypass to fruition. We all know that in projects like these, the federal government pays the lion’s share, but MDT must still provide a 13 percent match — $4.42 million in this case. Using the current 27 cents per gallon fuel tax that Montana levies for roads and bridges, it took 16.4 million gallons of gas, purchased by motorists all over the state, to pay that bill. That’s 820,000 tanksful of gas!

HB 473 raises the tax on gas by 8 cents per gallon and on diesel by 7.25 cents per gallon, with the ultimate purpose of shoring up the state’s ability to match federal funds and to funnel money to counties and cities for local road and street upgrades. The average motorist in Montana would pay about $6 or $7 more per month for the peace of mind that the safety and mobility of their family has been greatly improved through projects like the Kalispell Bypass.

Montana has the third highest highway fatality rate in the country. In many situations, roadway conditions such as lack of a shoulder or guardrail, and excessively steep slopes are contributing factors to accidents that result in injuries or death. Isn’t $6 or $7 month cheap insurance to keep our families and our employees safer on Montana roadways?

Granted, the companies we represent will directly benefit from the new funding made available by HB 473. More importantly, however, are the hundreds of people we employ who live and pay taxes here in the Flathead Valley but work on highway construction projects throughout the state. Without a consistent, predictable source of funding for highways, we cannot offer sustained employment opportunities to our valuable, highly skilled workers.

Rep. Carl Glimm of Kila has some great ideas to seek efficiencies within MDT, and we applaud his efforts as well. He appears committed to ensure Montana can continue to match available federal funds and to keep people working. As contractors, we endorse a thorough review of MDT operations and an increase in the fuel tax to set Montana up for responsible infrastructure maintenance and improvement for years to come.

One thing is clear: Montana has not addressed the fuel tax since 1993 and we are no longer keeping up with the deterioration of our highways, roads and bridges. As citizens, motorists, and business owners, we’re ready to invest in Montana’s infrastructure. Together, we can build a better Montana.

Mark Sandry, Sandry Construction Company, Bigfork; Al Schellinger, Schellinger Construction, Columbia Falls; Alrick Hale, Knife River, Kalispell; Jeff Claridge, LHC, Inc., Kalispell; Joe Tamburelli, Pavement Maintenance Solutions, Columbia Falls

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