The Montana Department of Transportation has an annual budget of over $710 million. Over $390 million of that money comes from the Federal government by way of grants through the Federal Highway Administration. The monies from the Feds are doled out on a project-by-project basis with the State of Montana responsible for approximately 13 percent of the project cost, and the Feds picking up 87 percent of the cost.
Under current projections, the Montana Department of Transportation is expected to fall $27 million short of budget projections, putting many projects and the federal highway matching dollars at risk.
Since the first quarter of this year, MDT has been suggesting that lower-priority projects on secondary highways would be cut, while projects on the Interstate and Primary systems would remain largely unaffected. (Daily Inter Lake, Mar. 2, 2016)
The Montana Infrastructure Coalition believes that safe and efficient roads and bridges are fundamental elements of a healthy community and a robust economy. Leveraging the full amount of federal highway dollars available should be a top priority for every legislature. However, even if the federal match can be made in 2017, the question lingers on what other secondary or local roadway project needs will remain unaddressed.
An average of over 200 drivers are killed on Montana’s highways each year. Montana’s traffic fatality rate is third highest in the nation, with fatality rates on non-Interstate rural roads standing at more than two-and-a-half times the rate on all other roads and highways in the state. Yet simple safety improvements – like adding turn lanes, removing or shielding obstacles, adding or improving medians, widening lanes, widening and paving shoulders, improving intersection layout, and providing better road markings and upgrading or installing traffic signals – may be the first projects to be delayed under budget shortfalls.
Funding for such basic safety improvements shouldn’t be an afterthought, and need not be subjected to political negotiations at the end of each legislative session. It is essential that Montana fully leverage the federal monies available, but we cannot ignore the critical safety needs on local roadways. With better planning, we don’t have to choose which comes first – we can do both.
Please join the Montana Infrastructure Coalition in expressing our support for a more thoughtful and sustainable approach to local road and bridge funding, and to consistently leveraging federal highway dollars to maintain our state and federal highways across Montana.