Increased Transportation Spending in Montana Needed for Safety, Economic Growth, and Long-Term Transportation Needs

AASHTO Journal, 21 February 2014

Every Montana driver pays an extra $484 per year in costs associated with driving on rough roads, or $170 million total for all drivers, according to a report released this week by transportation nonprofit TRIP. This cost to the state’s motorists is a result of the fact that 46 percent of the Montana’s major local and state urban roads are in poor or mediocre condition and 18 percent of the state’s bridges need improvement or replacement, signaling a need for greater transportation investment.

TRIP’s report, “Montana Transportation by the Numbers: Meeting the State’s Need for Safe and Efficient Mobility,” highlights the ways in which deteriorating transportation infrastructure is affecting safety and the state’s economic growth. According to TRIP, Montana’s traffic fatality rate of 1.72 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled is the third highest in the nation. Additionally, the fatality rate on Montana’s non-interstate rural roads is almost double that on all other roads across the state (or 2.25 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled versus 1.26).

“Improving safety on Montana’s roadways can be achieved through further improvements in vehicle safety; improvements in driver, pedestrian, and bicyclist behavior; and a variety of improvements in roadway safety features,” according to the report. “The severity of serious traffic crashes could be reduced through roadway improvements, where appropriate, such as adding turning lanes, removing or shielding obstacles, adding or improving medians, widening lanes, widening and paving shoulders, improving intersection layout, and providing better road markings and upgrading or installing traffic signals.”

However, those improvements necessitate funding, which is uncertain at this point with the expiration of the current surface transportation bill, MAP-21, on Sept. 30, 2014. If there is no revenue in the Highway Trust Fund at the end of the fiscal year, transportation funding in Montana could be cut by $395 million beginning Oct. 1.

The deteriorating and congested roadways that will continue without additional funding, TRIP said, do not bode well for the expected future population growth. According to the report, the number of vehicle miles traveled in the state increased 40 percent between 1990 and 2012. TRIP estimates that number will increase another 30 percent by 2030.

Montana Department of Transportation officials said the report underscores the urgent need for increased transportation infrastructure investment.

“While the TRIP report references mainly urban and local roads, MDT’s own assessment of our needs shows a 10-year need of $15 billion for the systems we are responsible for. Our projected funding is $10.6 billion less than the projected need over those 10 years,” said MDT Director Mike Tooley. “MDT is undertaking extensive planning and prioritization of projects, putting the funds we do have in the right place at the right time, which extends the life of our roads and infrastructure and saving money, as a dollar spent at the right time and place can save up to five later. As a result, roads that are a part of the interstate system or the national highway system in our state are some of the best in the nation.”

Tooley also said that transportation funding issues are not easy ones to solve and the effects are being felt everywhere.

“If funding transportation were simple, the issues surrounding the Highway Trust Fund would have been solved years ago,” Tooley said. “As it is now, the choices are not simple and not painless. This is a national issue and not just limited to Montana.”

The 20-page TRIP report is available here.

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