Montana Infrastructure List Topped by Roads, Bridges

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Montana has $3.1 billion worth of infrastructure projects that could be funded with federal stimulus money, according to a list compiled by the governor’s office.

A number of large transportation projects are the most expensive on the working list put together by Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s staff, including the expensive reconstruction of an aging bridge identified as faulty in the wake of the Minneapolis bridge collapse.

States are expecting that President-elect Barack Obama’s stimulus plan would include massive spending on infrastructure projects.

Projects that are ready to start immediately are likely to be given priority, and the governor’s list highlights projects that could begin within 180 days. A copy was provided Tuesday to The Associated Press.

The governor’s office has not prioritized the list, which was requested by the National Governor’s Association.

One big item is $54 million for the aging Two Medicine River bridge. The bridge, on U.S. Highway 2 east of Glacier National Park, was built in 1941 and is similar in construction to the one that collapsed in Minneapolis in 2007.

The list also says $58 million is needed for a wastewater treatment plant in Bozeman, and another $50 million for a water reclamation facility in Bozeman. The other big items are dominated by transportation projects.

The governor’s office said the list of “shovel ready” projects is being given to U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester.

“This jobs bill is about getting boots on the ground quickly and responsibly, so we can put folks to work rebuilding our economy,” Tester said. “It’s a long-term investment in our highways, bridges, water systems, schools and energy facilities that will pay us back for generations to come.”

Although no specific plan exists yet in Washington D.C., state governments anticipate they will be called upon to identify projects for the stimulus money.

“We felt it was important to be prepared,” said Sarah Elliott, Schweitzer’s spokeswoman.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said stimulus details are in flux, although the list is important to show Montana could use such money right away.

“Max wants to fund programs that will have maximum bang for Montana and help create jobs and make sure Montana doesn’t fall farther behind in this economic downturn,” said spokesman Barrett Kaiser.

The list also include many energy efficiency projects, such as $34 million for conservation projects in school buildings. Schweitzer has said such projects will pay off by lowering the government’s energy bills, and includes a number of lower cost conservation measures taken from his plan to reduce energy costs 20 percent by 2010.

In total there are nearly 800 projects on the list. If all projects were undertaken, it would require 100,000 workers, although they could overlap projects and are not necessarily new jobs.

Rep. Denny Rehberg has said infrastructure projects should focus on major projects, such as what was done with dams in the 1930s, to spur economic growth and not just on fixing bridges and filling potholes.

So far, Obama has released a plan that includes up to $200 billion for recession-hit state governments to avoid layoffs, cutbacks in services and raising their own taxes.

It would also include expanded food stamp and unemployment benefits, $300 billion in federal tax cuts and the possibility of spending on infrastructure projects.

Recently, some wilderness and wood-products interests asked the state’s congressional delegation to include money for forest restoration in Montana.

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