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Engen: Infrastructure funds to bolster city water, transportation, transit plans

Missoula Mayor John Engen, right, discusses the impacts Sen. Jon Tester’s infrastructure bill will have on the city’s efforts to invest in water, wastewater, transportation and transit. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

With billions of dollars heading to Montana for a wide range of infrastructure needs, the City of Missoula is poised to invest in its water and transportation network, and enhance its public transit system.

With the infrastructure bill now law, Mayor John Engen said the city’s past planning efforts may finally find the revenue they need to become reality.

“We expect millions of dollars to come our way to support the work we’re doing, particularly around transportation, transit, water and wastewater,” Mayor John Engen said Tuesday. “The broadband issue is also fascinating to us. We’ll see some activity there. It’s a program where everybody wins.”

While details are still forthcoming, Montana will receive an estimated $3 billion from the infrastructure bill, and the revenue will follow existing channels when it’s put to work across the state, Sen. Jon Tester said Tuesday.

Missoula has a number of plans already in place or being developed that could compete for funding when it becomes available. From water-system improvements to transportation upgrades, funding provided by the bill brings predictability where it didn’t exist before.

“We’ve been operating without a long-term transportation bill forever,” Engen said. “This gives us security moving forward with our projects. There’s predictability that comes with these resources that lets us get much further down the road.”

Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that Missoula would receive $847,000 in federal funding to plan the conversion of the Brooks Street corridor to a rapid transit system, along with other improvements.

City transportation officials said the plan, coupled with funding now available from the infrastructure bill, could push that project forward. Public transit is key to the equation, and it too received a boost from the infrastructure bill.

“Just getting that plan squared away and the partners at the table is a big step toward whatever is next,” Engen said. “I don’t think this is a one-and done investment. This (Biden) administration recognizes the value of transit.”

Higgins Avenue could also emerge as a winner. A study is underway to explore a redesign of the roadway and how it ties into plans for Brooks Street. Missoula’s water system, which the city acquired in 2015, could also benefit.

While the city has been pecking away at improvements to its drinking water system in recent years, federal funding could go far in patching leaks and making further upgrades. Engen said Missoula, like cities across Montana, struggle when trying to cover the cost of high-dollar projects, from water to roads.

“This bill does something for everyone, and it’s long past time that we have this kind of investment,” Engen said. “Our planning documents are complete and our priorities are complete, so we’ve got time with the engineering. Our internal processes set these priorities, and we’ll just march down a path as resources become available.”

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