A new report published by national research nonprofit TRIP, with data from the Montana Department of Transportation, examines the current condition and future needs of Montana’s system of roads, highways and bridges – outlining the state’s top 20 transportation challenges and the improvements needed to address them.
[Above photo by the Montana DOT]
TRIP’s report, entitled “Keep Moving Montana Forward: Progress and Challenges in Achieving a 21st Century Transportation System,” finds nearly one-third of major locally and state-maintained roads across Montana are in “poor” or “mediocre” condition, with 7 percent of locally and state-maintained bridges 20 feet or more in length rated poor and/or structurally deficient.
The report also noted that increased transportation funding provided by the state legislature’s passage of the Bridge and Road Safety and Accountability Act or “BaRSAA” in 2017, combined with additional federal funding via the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA enacted in November 2021, has allowed Montana to improve the condition of its roads, highways, and bridges.
TRIP said BaRSAA should generate some $40 million in additional road and bridge funding annually, providing critical infrastructure funding for local governments and enabling the Montana DOT to match and leverage more than $100 million in federal funds.
Highway investment in Montana is likely to increase further as a result of the five-year IIJA, which will provide $3.26 billion for highway, bridge, and transit investments in Montana over the next five years, which included a 33 percent funding increase in fiscal year 2022.
However, while current transportation investment levels allowed Montana to make infrastructure improvements, the state still faces challenges in accommodating growing passenger and freight traffic as well as making roadway safety improvements along with road, highway, and bridge repairs.
For example, from 2000 to 2019, vehicle travel in Montana increased by 30 percent – rising from roughly 9.9 billion annual miles traveled to 12.9 billion annual miles traveled. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, vehicle travel in Montana decreased to 12.1 billion miles but rebounded in 2021 to 13.8 billion annual miles traveled.
“We take seriously our mission of planning, building, operating and maintaining a safe and resilient transportation infrastructure to move Montana forward,” said Malcolm ‘Mack’ Long, director of the Montana DOT, in a statement.
“Working together we will continue to find efficiencies and build strong partnerships with local governments, communities, and our contracting partners,” he added.
[Editor’s note: The complete video of TRIP’s media event regarding its Montana transportation report is below.]
“Montana depends on a safe and efficient transportation system to deliver goods and services to surrounding markets, and to keep our families safe in our daily travel routines,” said Darryl James, executive director of the Montana Infrastructure Coalition.
“In 2017, the Montana Legislature took the bold step of increasing the state fuel tax for the first time in a quarter century,” he added. “That modest increase has provided significant opportunity for cities and counties to address long-overdue transportation safety and efficiency issues, and provided the state with additional revenue to leverage matching federal dollars. The increasing cost of labor and materials combined with much greater fuel efficiency and broadening usage of electric vehicles should be prompting us to adjust our transportation-related fees and taxes to adapt to these evolving trends.”
“Montana has put the increased state and federal transportation dollars to good use and made needed improvements to its transportation network,” emphasized Dave Kearby, TRIP’s executive director.
“But, in order to continue to enhance the system, the state will need to make further increases in its level of transportation investment,” he said. “A safe and reliable transportation network that is maintained in good condition and offers improved mobility and accessibility to meet the needs of Montana residents, businesses, and tourists alike, is critical to moving Montana forward.