Guest Column

A Bridge in Bigfork is Just as Important as Baltimore 

The town of Bigfork saw its only bridge traversing town abruptly condemned and closed to even foot traffic

By Ryan Zinke

For hours after the tragic accident that took down a bridge over the Pabsco River in Baltimore, our nation sat together in sadness for the seven construction workers who lost their lives. My heart and prayers remain with the souls lost, their surviving crew and family members. 

But then the President remembered it’s an election year and pounced on the media moment to proclaim the American taxpayer will rush all the funding to rebuild the bridge as quickly as possible. Biden’s exact words: “the federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge, and I expect the Congress to support my effort.” 

From this member of Congress to Mr. Biden, no way. 

Roads and bridges are one of the few basic costs the federal government should assist with funding – that’s why there is a federal gas tax after all. However, putting taxpayers in Montana on the hook for the Baltimore project when that should primarily be paid by insurance claims followed by state and federal funds is not the answer. Given the current trajectory, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that, starting in 2028, balances in the highway account of the trust fund will fall to zero, and the Department of Transportation will be unable to reimburse states in a timely fashion for the bills presented to the fund.

How many other towns and counties will have their desperately needed infrastructure projects pushed to the side as a result?

The City of Baltimore is no more important than the town of Bigfork. 

Just last month, the town of Bigfork saw its only bridge traversing town abruptly condemned and closed to even foot traffic. This cut off children from their schools and businesses from downtown, eliminated a critical emergency services route, and put in jeopardy the biggest annual revenue streams the summer tourist town has, the Whitewater Festival and Fourth of July parade. Sure, Bigfork has a year-round population of just under 5,000 residents. But to those 5,000 residents that bridge is the most important piece of infrastructure in the county. No Biden bailout announcement there. 

Flathead County and the state have been planning and saving for a new Bigfork bridge for years, however the sudden closure makes an emergency temporary bridge necessary while a permanent bridge is built. My office has been working with local, state and federal agencies on a fix and will continue to press emergency funding sources for a temporary bridge while a new bridge is constructed. 

A similar situation is unfolding a bit farther south. The 2022 Yellowstone flood blew out roads and bridges from Mammoth to Emigrant. The flood was declared a major disaster making the impacted area eligible for emergency federal funding. This year when Park County sought funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to replace a bridge that carried water and utilities across downtown Gardiner, the county was rejected. My office has been successful in securing partial funding for Park County, but FEMA’s denial of funds after a major disaster like the ‘22 Yellowstone flood is just unthinkable. We are working with Park County to appeal that decision. 

There’s a lot of wasteful government spending by the Biden Administration and Senate Democrats. Bike paths, interpretive dance centers, universities with billion-dollar endowments, studies about rats on psychedelic mushrooms, drag shows, sex change operations, and diversity indoctrination have no right to federal funding. In fact, I voted to strip all that garbage from the appropriations bills last year. Where the federal government does have a role is roads and bridges and that funding should not be based on whether it’s a deep blue east coast city. Infrastructure needs to be properly funded. And in this case, it’s not prioritizing Baltimore over Bigfork. 

Ryan Zinke is a Republican U.S. Congressman from Montana.