Billions of dollars in spending on roads, bridges, airports and water projects is coming to Montana after the House of Representatives on Friday passed the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.
The bill, known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed on a 228-205 vote in the House. The bill would spread roughly $550 billion in new spending nationwide over the next five years, tacking on more money to existing infrastructure spending.
Friday’s vote pushed the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk, with a pending signature from the president marking the end of a monthslong campaign to get the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act from talking points to law.
Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester played a key role in getting the bill through the Senate in August, joining with a group of 10 senators, five Republicans and five Democrats, to strike a deal on the $1.2 trillion package.
“This legislation will create good-paying Montana jobs, lower costs for working families, make it easier to do business in our state, and ensure we maintain our competitive edge over China—all without raising taxes on Montanans or adding to our national debt,” Tester said in a release Friday.
Montana would receive $2.82 billion for highway projects, with an additional $225 million set aside for bridge replacement in the state, according to Tester’s office.
The $2.82 billion would be sent to the Montana Department of Transportation and would be distributed around the state based on input from project engineers, according to Tester’s office. Other projects, like broadband expansion — with the bill setting aside roughly $42 billion for broadband projects in rural areas — would need to apply for grants at the federal level.
About $144 million would go to airports in Montana, too.
Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport Director Brian Sprenger said that record-breaking increases in air travel this year have put strain on existing infrastructure. The airport saw a 50% increase in passengers last month, shattering the previous record of a 29% increase posted in October 2019.
The money would be useful in accelerating projects, like a proposed east side terminal expansion that is in the planning and development stage, which could cost up to $50 million, Sprenger said.
“I think one of the bigger challenges is going to be how some of these projects don’t just happen overnight, so ramping them up is going to take a bit of time,” Sprenger said.
David Smith, the executive director of the Montana Contractors Association, said that time could play a factor for projects in the state, specifically how much time the bill would allow to spend money.
He looked back to the COVID-19 relief bills, the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan Act, both of which provided strict guidelines on when money had to be spent. ARPA provided a deadline of 2024 to spend money on projects by states, counties and cities.
“The challenge that we’re going to have, honestly, is getting that money spent within the timeframe that it is required,” Smith said.
Whether there is a timeline on when money has to be spent is unclear in the bill. Some of the money could be doled out in grant form. Smith said that typically federal grants have a deadline for spending at the end of the fiscal year in which they are received.
Contractors in Montana have full business books, too, Smith said. Full schedules coupled with compressed timelines and an industry already struggling with labor shortages could make a deadline to get money from pocket to project on a deadline difficult.
“We’re adding on another layer of work that we’re expecting to be done in a hurry, but, having said all that, it’s not like we’re going to turn it down,” Smith said.
Both Republican members of Montana’s congressional delegation voted against the infrastructure package.
Rep. Matt Rosendale voted no on Friday, and in a statement issued Saturday, called the bill a “trojan horse” that would pay for the Green New Deal, push a left-wing socialist agenda and invade privacy.
“It is irresponsible for Congress to force the American taxpayer to fund an infrastructure bill that barely touches on infrastructure,” Rosendale said.
Sen. Steve Daines also voted no in August, citing a Congressional Budget Office report that the bill could add roughly $250 billion to the national deficit as a reason to reject the infrastructure package.
Daines said in a release from Saturday that the bill’s passage was a “stepping stone” to the other Democratic $1.75 trillion social spending package, with proposed spending over 10 years including $400 billion to universal child care, $550 billion to combat climate change and an extension to the Child Tax Credit.