From the Desk of Jon Tester: Internet Service

To: Darryl James, Executive Director, Montana Infrastructure Coalition

Dear Darryl,

Thank you for contacting me about internet service in Montana, and the importance of staying connected during the COVID-19 outbreak.  I am fighting to slow the spread of the virus and to ensure that Montanans receive the support they need during these uncertain times.

COVID-19 has disrupted daily American life.  Now more than ever, it is critically important for Montana to have reliable access to high-speed internet.  That’s why I voted for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (H.R. 748).  This bill includes $100 million for the ReConnect program, an initiative to increase high-speed internet access in rural areas.  The CARES Act also included $50 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services to expand digital network access in areas of the country where such access is lacking.

I also am pushing Senate leadership to pass my bipartisan bill, the Keeping Critical Connections Act (S. 3569).  This bill would establish a fund to compensate rural broadband providers for offering free or discounted services to families who are struggling to keep up with their bills due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  This legislation would help students in rural areas stay on top of their education as they transition to online learning and allow families to stay connected as more Montanans stay home.  To see what resources are available in your area, visit the Federal Communications Commission:

I will continue to fight for the needs of Montanans as we work through this unprecedented situation.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me again if I can be of further assistance.


Jon Tester
United States Senator

Water is the universal lifeblood….

A clean and reliable water source for drinking, cooking, growing food, and basic hygiene needs provides the foundation for healthy communities and vibrant economies.

According to the Montana chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Montana has over 5,300 miles of water distribution and transmission piping – a longer stretch than driving from Billings to Miami . . . and back.

In 2011, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality identified an immediate water system financial need of $885 million.  This estimated investment deficit is based on three critical elements:  age of the facilities, capacity demands, and increasing regulatory requirements.

Age:  Engineers estimate that the structural service life of most pipes is approximately 75 years (see attached photos of 75 to 100 year old pipe replaced in Cascade).  Many of Montana’s small to medium-sized communities were platted in the early 1900’s and much of their water piping has never been replaced, and older and more established communities have water pipes that date back to the late 1800’s.  In response to a survey conducted by ASCE, 90 percent of responding communities reported that they are replacing none, or very little of their water distribution system on an annual basis, even while experiencing major leaks.  Some small communities experience in excess of 10 leaks per year, and one larger community reported 15 major and 40 minor leaks in 2013.

Capacity:  Population growth puts additional strains on infrastructure.  Of the communities responding to the ASCE poll, 35 percent said their water treatment systems had zero additional capacity.  Over 60 percent reported less than five years of remaining capacity.  Only five percent suggested they had 20 years of capacity in their systems.  Similar figures were reported for the water distribution systems themselves.

Regulatory Compliance:  Of the 700 community water systems in Montana 158 (23 %) are not currently in compliance with regulatory requirements associated with the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The total cost to replace Montana’s entire water and wastewater infrastructure is estimated to range between $12 billion and $15 billion.  ASCE estimates that the total annual reinvestment by Montana communities is currently around $165 million, statewide.  At this rate of investment, it will take 90 years to replace our aging water infrastructure – this includes both pipelines (with a structural lifespan of 75 years) and water treatment systems (with a service life of approximately 25 years).

Obviously, not all of our water systems need near-term replacement, but with an “immediate” need identified at $885 million (in 2011) and annual expenditures at only $165 million, our current funding pattern will continue to fall woefully short of ever-mounting maintenance, repair, upgrade and replacement needs.

The Infrastructure Coalition is working on a non-partisan legislative package that will help to address some of our most pressing infrastructure needs.  Please join us in expressing your support for comprehensive and sustainable legislation that will begin to address critical infrastructure needs, keep our talented workforce fully employed, and shore up the foundations of a healthy economy in Montana.

About the Montana Infrastructure Coalition

The Montana Infrastructure Coalition is an association of over 70 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.

Leveraging Federal Dollars and Meeting Local Needs

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.

The Coalition met with Butte Officials

Infrastructure Coalition presented the coalition’s goals to Butte officials Monday July 11 that illustrated the need to direct more money to local roads, sewers and other public infrastructure in Montana.

If you didn’t know, the Montana Infrastructure Coalition began this spring of 2016, after a $150 million bill funding infrastructure and building projects across the state died in the Montana Legislature.

Tim Burton, executive director of the Montana League of Cities and Towns, said the new group was nonpartisan, had raised $100,000 already rather easily and 50 organizations already had joined. He said there was interest in Butte and other cities and towns to get on board.

  • The 2017 legislative session won’t start until January, but the Coalition will initiate its mission early.
  • Key points of the presentation include:
  • The Coalition is not a political organization, it is a research and education organization
  • The Coalition is a long-term enterprise
  • Identify adequately fund for the most pressing local needs for roads, bridges, sewers, water and other infrastructure
  • All but three of Montana’s 129 incorporated cities and towns belong to the Coalition
  • The bill that failed in 2015 would have provided at least $150 million in cash and bonding authority for local government infrastructure and state long-range building projects
  • The bill would also arrange a state loan up to $10 million to help pay for construction of a long-sought veterans home in Butte
  • Give cities with more weight more priority in getting state dollars
  • Examine all ways of funding local infrastructure projects and decide which ones to pursue in 2017 and beyond
  • Suggest the establishment of a committee on local government funding that would meet between sessions to keep issues in the spotlight
  • Get people advocated for local public infrastructure funding on the same page
  • Develop ground up support for infrastructure needs

Read the Montana Standard Article by Mike Smith

Montana Infrastructure Coalition Lays Groundwork for Future

FOR IMMMEDIATE RELEASE: Montana Infrastructure Coalition Lays Groundwork for Future

In conjunction with national Infrastructure Week, the Montana Infrastructure Coalition created a Research and Policy Committee to analyze the most effective funding methods for future infrastructure investment. All options will be on the table to develop a consensus funding package in the next legislative session and beyond.

The Infrastructure Coalition, a non-partisan group of over 50 members representing design professionals, labor, trade associations, construction contractors, and local governments will study comprehensive infrastructure needs and funding mechanisms this summer. The immediate aim is to submit proposals for improvements to Montana’s infrastructure funding system in time for the 2017 Legislative session.

Infrastructure Week outlines a national schedule of events; media coverage; and education and advocacy efforts to elevate infrastructure as a critical issue impacting all Americans. Policy discussions, legislative briefings, presentations, ribbon cuttings and field tours are being conducted across the country to highlight the desperate need for investment in public infrastructure.

The Montana Infrastructure Coalition is using Infrastructure Week to spur constructive dialogue in Montana. Coalition Chair, Webb Brown, said, “The message of Infrastructure Week is simply to remind policy makers and the public that infrastructure matters to our communities, our state, our safety, our quality of life, and our economy.” Good roads, bridges, highways, water, sewer, and other essential community infrastructure matters to the goods we ship and the companies that make and sell them; it matters to our daily commutes and our summer vacations, to drinking water from our faucets, to the lights in our homes, and ultimately to every aspect of our daily lives.

Every year we fail to adequately invest in our infrastructure, Montana becomes less competitive, our economy grows more slowly, and families and businesses lose valuable time and money. Lack of investment in our infrastructure ripples throughout the economy: for every $1 invested in infrastructure nearly, $2 in output is created – putting our friends and neighbors to work.

Reacting to a recent Brookings Institution report, Jason Rittal, Vice Chair of the Coalition and Board Member of the Montana Economic Developers Association, said, “Too often, policy makers and the public tend to focus simply on the immediate and direct jobs created by the construction of infrastructure projects, while significant economic benefits extend far beyond construction.” The Brookings report highlights the diversified employment and long-term economic benefits of infrastructure investment.

The report notes the steady stream of trained workforce necessary to design, construct, maintain and operate our various infrastructure facilities, and estimates that over 14.5 million workers – or 11 percent of the entire US workforce – are directly employed in infrastructure-related jobs.

With this in mind, every dollar we spend on the asphalt, steel and concrete used to build our communities is also a direct investment in long-term jobs and the economy. To grow our economy, keep Montanan’s safe, and our communities strong, we need all levels of government and the private sector to work together to rebuild and repair our critical infrastructure.

About the Montana Infrastructure Coalition: The Montana Infrastructure Coalition (MIC) was formally established in the spring of 2016 as an informational non-profit organization. The long-term intent is to lobby the legislature to prioritize infrastructure investment and make long-term modification in financing structures to foster sustainable investments in our most critical infrastructure. Current Board Members include: Webb Brown (Montana Chamber of Commerce), Tim Burton (Montana League of Cities and Towns), Jason Rittal (Montana Economic Developers Association), Jon Metropoulos (Montana Association of Oil, Gas and Coal Counties), Cary Hegreberg (Montana Contractors Association), Chris Cavazos (Montana AFL-CIO), Jay Skoog (Montana Chapter – American Council of Engineering Companies).

For more information, please contact:
Executive Director, Darryl James
406.459-6574, or via email at [email protected]