Bill creating a $100 million infrastructure fund advances in House

Legislation to create a $100 million transportation infrastructure fund passed unanimously through the House Appropriations Committee last week.

House Bill 267, sponsored by Rep. Courtenay Sprunger, R-Kalispell, aims to increase state access to federal transportation dollars for infrastructure projects. The bill is also a part of Gov. Greg Gianforte’s proposed budget.

Known as the SAFER Act — the Securing Access to Federal Expenditures to Repair Montana Roads and Bridges Account Act — the bill allows the Montana Department of Transportation to put the $100 million toward as much as $800 million in available matching dollars from the federal government.

Projects will be completed as identified by the Transportation Commission, a group of five members who each represent one district for the state. Flathead County falls within district one. Members are appointed by the governor, according to Sprunger.

These match dollars are required to secure both federal transportation grants and additional one-time-only federal funding opportunities.

“Roads and bridges are the bedrock of our community and commerce,” Sprunger said in a hearing for the bill in Helena on Jan. 24. “This is a practical and wise use of money so we could potentially, over the long range, have money to address other needs as well.”

The bill creates a statutory appropriation to set aside dollars for repairs to Montana’s roads and bridges. About $15 million could be used annually against a one time only funding opportunity from the federal government. Unused dollars roll forward until the fund empties out.

The bill enjoyed widespread support at its Jan. 24 hearing. Malcolm Long, director of the state transportation agency, urged passage of the bill, stating that there is already a structured plan with possible projects.

Other proponents included Randy Brodehl, a Flathead county commissioner; Ryan Evans, the assistant director of the governor’s budget office; Darryl James, the executive director for Montana Infrastructure Coalition; and David Smith, the executive director of the Montana Contractors Association. The Montana Trucking Association and the Montana Logging Association also expressed support.

“Montana really does depend on a safe and efficient transportation system to deliver out goods and services to surrounding markets,” James said in his testimony.

According to Larry Flynn, the chief financial officer for the state Department of Transportation, the fund likely would last eight years. That could lead to about three quarters of a billion dollars in available federal funding flowing into the state for various undertakings.

Flynn also pointed to the time required to complete infrastructure projects, saying the implementation of a stable, known funding source would prove beneficial.

The SAFER Act could help with infrastructure projects in the Flathead Valley, which has recently received help from the federal government for transportation upgrades. In December, a $25 million federal grant was awarded to the city of Kalispell to assist with improving West Reserve Drive, an infamously congested 1.5 mile strip of road.

The original funding for the project came from the Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program, which was created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Joe Biden in 2021.

Sprunger called West Reserve Drive a “good example” of the projects that will get completed via the SAFER Act.

According to Sprunger, the first phase of funding for West Reserve Drive is for the area from Whitefish Stage Road to U.S. 93, but that the federal grant from the SAFER Act will provide funds to allow the city of Kalispell to finish the project in its entirety.

The bill is on its way to the House floor. A vote has not yet been scheduled.

Reporter Kate Heston can be reached at

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