AASHTO Journal, 19 June 2015
The director of the Montana Department of Transportation told state residents they pay just a few dollars a week to build and maintain highways partly because the federal highway program is paying large amounts to the MDT.
But he also warned that with tight state funds and with Congress wrestling over how to fund is highway program, residents should “be prepared if the road gets a little rough in the future.”
The agency said in a press release that “federal funds pay for about 87 percent of MDT’s highway construction, and Montana receives about $2.58 for every dollar Montanans contribute to the federal Highway Trust Fund.”
Tooley’s message came ahead of the state’s June 16 observance of “Good Roads Day” as designated by the Montana Legislature, in which the people of the state are urged to “contribute toward the improvement and safety of public highways.”
This year, the MDT asked Montanans to think about the role transportation plays in their daily lives.
“We know we are doing a good job when people can get to jobs, healthcare, shopping, recreation and daily activities without giving roads and bridges a thought,” Tooley said. “And this has been possible for many years at a very small cost to motorists.”
The MDT said a Montana driver contributes around $3.50 to $5.00 a week to fuel taxes to support the highway system. “One reason it has been so low – for many of us less than a latte a week – is that we have a strong federal funding partnership,” Tooley noted.
He added that “MDT has also been very diligent in managing our assets, with a focus on preserving what we have first, because it costs a lot less than having to reconstruct a highway or a bridge.”
But the agency said funding is tight, and available highway revenue is projected to cover less than a third of Montana’s $15.8 billion in transportation infrastructure needs over the next decade.
“Funding has been relatively flat for years, while construction costs, inflation, an aging infrastructure and increased use make it tougher to preserve and maintain Montana’s roads and bridges,” the release said. “Continuing uncertainty at the federal level, with no long-term solution to keeping the federal program solvent past the end of the summer, compounds the issue of maintaining the state’s infrastructure.”
Tooley said the MDT “will continue to do what we can to preserve and improve highways and road infrastructure as Montanans have come to expect. But the numbers don’t add up, and the budget won’t stretch anymore.”
So he said as Montana looks to federal support for a long-term funding solution, residents should be prepared that Montana pavement and bridge conditions may deteriorate while emerging needs are not met.