Congressional turmoil challenges timeline for terminal project at Missoula airport

Missoula International Airport (Missoula Current file photo)

The Missoula International Airport will keep a close watch on Tuesday night’s State of the Union address in hopes of gleaning any details surrounding an infrastructure bill and how it may play out in Congress.

At the same time, it’s also taking steps to begin the construction of a new passenger terminal, though the timeline may depend upon a number of political outcomes in Washington, D.C.

“We’re in a continuing resolution and on February 8, we might be right back to where we were a week or so ago,” said Airport Director Cris Jensen. “We’re worried a little about that and hope Congress will decide to pass a longer-term extension this next go round.”

The federal government shut down earlier this month after Congress initially failed to fund it. A temporary agreement was reached last week, though it only keeps the government open through Feb. 8, at which time it could see another shutdown.

Jensen said such interruptions impact the airport in a number of ways, including the administration of the grants it will need to begin the terminal project, as well as other grant-funded projects.

Amid the uncertainty, airport officials are also working to make sense of an infrastructure bill proposed in Congress and how it may impact the terminal project, which will take years to complete.

Last week, a leaked White House memo suggested a number of potential directions, and while the memo was only a draft, airport officials are working to read between the lines.

“Essentially, it would be something of a stimulus package, and we’ve been trying to dissect what that package might look like and what it might mean to us,” Jensen said. “It appears in the document they’re saying that a federal grant can’t be larger than 20 percent of a federally grant-funded project.”

The leaked memo does not include an overall dollar amount for infrastructure, though it does suggest that 50 percent of appropriated funds could be used for an “infrastructure incentives initiative.”

The plan could provide funding to the states and units of local government for “core infrastructure projects.” But the memo suggests that federal grants could not exceed 20 percent of the total project cost.

“If that’s over and above our airport improvement program funds, then that would be great,” Jensen said. “If that includes our airport improvement program funds then that infrastructure package would have no use to us. Hopefully tonight after the State of the Union speech we’ll know a little more about what’s proposed.”