After nearly six weeks of work amongst Infrastructure Coalition members and a bi-partisan group of legislators, the Bridge and Road Safety and Accountability Act has been formally introduced to the Legislature and has been scheduled for a hearing on Wednesday, February 22nd.
As a means of updating our “user fees” for Montana highways, the bill, sponsored by Rep. Frank Garner (R-Kalispell), proposes an $0.08 increase in the tax on gasoline, and a $0.0725 increase in the tax on highway diesel. This increase is estimated to provide roughly $35 million in new revenue for the Montana Department of Transportation, provide approximately $24 million in new revenues to city and county governments, and protect Montana Highway Patrol jobs put at risk by current budget constraints.
“The Infrastructure Coalition is excited to see HB 473 moving forward and we hope for a good, robust hearing on the merits of the bill,” said Darryl James, Executive Director of the Coalition. “While the current bill draft does not completely mirror our proposal, we do believe that it is a sound vehicle that we can stand behind as a Coalition. HB 473 allows Montana to fully leverage federal highway dollars and provide a long-overdue increase for local governments to address our most pressing transportation safety and efficiency needs across Montana.”
“A fuel tax is one of the most direct “user fees” we have at our disposal. We haven’t adjusted that fee since the early 90’s in Montana, and we simply cannot keep up with routine maintenance as the value of our revenue declines relative to inflation,” said James.
Rep. Frank Garner said, “My mission in sponsoring HB 473 is to promote road and bridge safety for our families. With this bill, we can pay as we go for these improvements and we can get our out-of-state visitors to help us pay for them. We can turn an investment of $60 million into $290 million with federal and local matching funds and we can save tens of millions more with safer and better roads.”
The Infrastructure Coalition urges legislators to see this bill for what it is – an opportunity to leverage a direct user fee to invest in our failing roads and bridges. James said, “This bill is about our kids and our commerce in Montana. Over 200 people die every year on Montana’s highways. Surely we all share an interest in making sure our kids have safe roads to get to school and sporting events across the state. Our remote location often makes connections to business and commercial markets difficult, but poorly maintained roads make that challenge even greater. We owe it to our kids, our business people, and our communities to maintain a safe and reliable transportation system and we urge the Legislature to move this important piece of legislation forward.”
The Montana Infrastructure Coalition is an association of over 100 public and private organizations involved in the design, construction, operation and maintenance of our most critical infrastructure in Montana. The purpose of this Coalition is to help change public policy and improve the manner in which State and local governments build and maintain these essential community assets.