By Tyler Allen EBS Managing Editor

BIG SKY – U.S. Sen. Steve Daines announced yesterday a nearly $10.4 million TIGER grant for improvements along Lone Mountain Trail, also known as Highway 64, as well as funding for the Big Sky Transportation District’s public transit service.

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant will be used for the construction of approximately seven left-turn lanes, a pedestrian tunnel beneath the highway, and nearly $2.5 million for the Skyline bus system, among other projects.

“Gallatin County is leading the state in economic growth,” Daines said in a statement. “This grant will help the county meet the infrastructure demands of this rapid growth and continue creating good-paying jobs in the community.”

Protected turn lanes are slated for the intersections at Ace Hardware, the Big Sky Medical Center and Roxy’s Market, among others, which have been the scene of numerous vehicle collisions in recent years.

“There are so many needs to address with the growth [in Big Sky],” said David Kack, coordinator for the Big Sky Transportation District and program manager for the Western Transportation Institute. “This is a great way to address many of the community’s critical needs without finding a local funding source.”

Kack said that he didn’t expect to hear about the grant application’s status until April or May, and was surprised by yesterday’s news. “When you look at the sheer number of proposals they get, you have about a 6 percent chance of being selected.”

A 2017 transportation study commissioned by the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, and written by the Western Transportation Institute, identified numerous hazards on the state highway, including high traffic volumes and unprotected turning lanes.

WTI wrote the proposal for the TIGER grant in conjunction with Bozeman engineering firm Sanderson Stewart, and it was submitted by Gallatin County on behalf of Big Sky in October 2017. Kack said the design process for roadwork could begin as early as this summer, with construction likely happening in two phases during the 2019 and 2020 construction seasons.

The money for the transportation district is slated for four new buses and six vans, and is intended to address the issues of over capacity in the area’s transit system. Big Sky Chamber of Commerce CEO Candace Carr Strauss said she was ecstatic when she heard the news last night.

“We’re honored that the Big Sky community trusts us to be the catalyst for tackling some of the major infrastructure-related challenges that we’re facing with our growth here,” she said.

Strauss stressed the importance of the partnership among the various stakeholders in receiving the grant, entities that include WTI, Sanderson Stewart, the transportation district, the Big Sky Community Organization, the chamber of commerce, and both Gallatin and Madison counties for adopting the transportation study in their growth plans. She also pointed to the funding from the Big Sky Resort Area District tax board in making the initial study possible.

The pedestrian tunnel beneath Lone Mountain Trail will cost nearly $660,000 and will connect the trail along the highway to the Meadow Village.

“That is just a critical connection for our community trail system, because it connects the trails on both sides of the highway,” said Big Sky Community Organization Executive Director Ciara Wolfe. A pedestrian bridge is also slated for construction over the West Fork of the Gallatin River, along Little Coyote Road.

“This proposal was a big focus on rural economic development,” Kack said. “We really played up that Lone Mountain Trail was the only public access to Big Sky, which is a big economic driver for Montana.”