Much of Montana's roads, bridges and waterways are reaching the end of their useful life. In a new state-specific report card released today, Montana Civil Engineers give that aging infrastructure a mediocre overall grade of C-minus and say it needs attention.
"Across the board, our infrastructure has done a good job working for us, but it's aging,"said Melissa Matassa-Stone with the Montana Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers that issued this report card, Montana's first. "A vast majority of our schools were built before 1970. The students they were built for are retiring. In many of our cities we see water and wastewater lines from when the towns were originally platted, so 75 to 100 years old. A lot of the dams were built in the early 1900's through the 1930's."
According to Matassa-Stone, it would take billions of dollars to make significant and necessary improvements to Montana's infrastructure. Specifically, she estimates it would cost $12 billion to $15 billion to improve the state’s drinking and wastewater facilities, $14 billion for roads and bridges. About 10 years ago it was estimated to cost over $900 million to bring our aging schools up to snuff.
Matassa-Stone says no specific part of Montana's infrastructure presents an obvious imminent danger to the public. She also points out it is expensive, but Montana's C-minus grade is better than the national average grade of D-plus.
"But I know what my parents would have said if I came home with a C-minus across the board; it wouldn't have been a happy evening in the household," said Matassa-Stone. "So what this tells us is, as a whole, our infrastructure is in mediocre shape, in need of repair. As the infrastructure ages, we need more investment to raise the grade to good working condition to support our economic vitality,our quality of life."
Gov. Steve Bullock yesterday unveiled his proposed budget which called for spending some $300 million on public works projects. The governor is calling on the business community to help him promote this plan for projects like upgraded roads, water systems, and other infrastructure projects across Montana.
Bullock met with representatives of the construction and engineering community today in Billings. Montana Republicans and Democrats agree statewide infrastructure investments are needed, but disagree on how to pay for it.
The Democrat hopes they will help him get support for his plan before a skeptical GOP-led legislature Dick Anderson is the CEO of Dick Anderson Construction. He can’t believe anyone would oppose the administration’s proposal to bond for two-thirds of the cost.
"You always hear, too bad they don’t run government like private industry," said Anderson. "I haven’t built a project yet that they didn’t borrow. Every building I built, they’re in the bank borrowing. And so if they’re saying we’re going to run the government but we can’t borrow, it makes no sense to me."
Later, he says he understands the GOP’s argument that they don’t want to leave future generations saddled with a large debt. Still Anderson argues these are critical projects to help Montanans.
"It’s not a Democrat/Republican issue. It’s whether you believe in the future and growth in Montana."
The governor hopes lawmakers will listen to businessmen like Anderson and consider his budget with an open mind.
"What I hope they will do is actually now dig into what we’re proposing, look at the way we want to continue to be fiscally responsible and managing our dollars right and at the end of the day being more concerned about what Main Street and mainstream Montana needs."
Bullock and his Lieutenant Governor plan to continue to bring their budget plans to other Montana communities this week. On Wednesday, Bullock will discuss Medicaid Expansion in Great Falls and on Thursday he’s in Missoula to talk education.