Daines, Tester urge Transportation Secretary Chao to approve Missoula road grant
After years of planning and another push, Missoula County remains hopeful that its application for a $23 million infrastructure grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation will come through this year.
The application, supported by the city of Missoula and the private sector, also has the backing of Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester, who have met with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to lobby on the county's behalf.
Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick said the agency could make an announcement as early as Nov. 12, though in the past it has taken longer.
“We haven't heard anything since our trip to (Washington) D.C.,” Slotnick told the Missoula Current. “When we were in D.C., we were told that we were right there at the top, and it really depended on congressional lobbying. They needed to hear from our delegation, and it sounds like they have, so I think that puts us in a really strong spot.”
The federal BUILD grant would help fund the expansion of a road grid and vital infrastructure west of Reserve Street. Among other things, it would connect Mullan Road to West Broadway through the extension of George Elmer Drive and Mary Jane Boulevard.
As Missoula County commissioners stated, “It will help launch proactive, well-planned growth” and “encourage development of homes people can afford in an area ripe for development.”
Daines joined city and county officials in touring the area this summer. During the tour, he pledged to support the county's grant application, and this week he met with Secretary Chao to discuss the project's importance.
“The senator spoke with Chao, who is responsible for approving BUILD grants,” said Daines spokesperson Katie Schoettler. “The senator expressed to Chao the importance of this project for Missoula and the state, highlighting the economic growth and development it would bring to the community. The senator also brought up the fact that without the project, the new Missoula veterans (clinic) won’t be possible.”
Tester spokesperson Roy Loewenstein said the state's senior senator is also involved in pushing for the grant.
"He wrote a letter of support and spoke with Secretary Chao about it personally," Loewenstein said. "He's been very connected with the local advocates who have been working on the grant."
Missoula County applied for a similar grant last year, and while the grant was considered to the end, it ultimately wasn't approved. The county made crucial adjustments to its application this year, and Slotnick remains optimistic on the outcome.
County and city officials, joined by members of the private sector, visited D.C. in September to make their case.
“The DOT folks received us well, and I could tell they were impressed by the breadth of cooperation,” Slotnick said. “We had folks there from city government, county government and the private sector, all in pretty big numbers. We had support letters from the nonprofit community as well.”
If approved, the grant would fund nearly three miles of new roads and open access to nearly 1,500 acres of developable land. It could also lead to the placement of nearly 3,000 residential homes and 7,000 new jobs.
“Other communities had pretty big projects, but they can be somewhat divisive,” Slotnick said. “We were able to show a unified front. I think we have a good shot.”