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Tester, local officials urge final passage of fed infrastructure bill

HELENA (KPAX) — The $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill that will greatly benefit Montana could be days away from final passage – if the House takes action this month and sends it to the president, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and local officials said Thursday.

“It needs to pass the House,” Tester said at a news conference in Helena. “There is an agreement to get this bill done by the 27th of September. I’m calling on Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi to get this legislation passed as soon as possible.”

Tester, a Democrat, is one of 10 senators from both parties who hammered out the compromise proposal, which passed the Senate on Aug. 10.

Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines of Montana voted against it. Montana’s only House member, Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, hasn’t said how he’s going to vote on the bill.

The measure includes millions of dollars for roads, bridges, airports, water-and-sewer systems and high-speed Internet expansion.

“There’s a lot in it for Montana,” Tester said.

Geoff Feiss of the Montana Telecommunications Association, which represents smaller telephone and Internet providers in the state, said Thursday the bill has “the largest infusion of money for broadband infrastructure in my lifetime and probably all of our lifetimes.”

“It may be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to close the digital divide, to raise us from the bottom to top of states with (Internet) access,” he said.

The bill has a minimum of $100 million for Montana to expand broadband, but likely a lot more, since additional funds will be based on a state’s rural nature, high cost of installation and lower level of personal income – all factors that exist in Montana, Feiss said.

Helena City Commissioner Heather O’Loughlin said the money is badly needed by cities and towns, to fix aging water, sewer and street systems.

Helena has identified $20 million worth of projects to improve its water-supply system, which is more than 100 years old, and major street projects sometimes takes years to develop, because of a lack of funding, she said.

“As our community grows, we need to get in front of improving streets, water and sewer systems,” she said. “Helena is poised and ready to utilize infrastructure dollars in this package to improve critical systems.”