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Counties, resort tax, MDT pitch in funds to launch TIGER grant work

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A Karst Stage bus turns onto Ousel Falls Road from Montana Highway 64. OUTLAW PARTNERS PHOTO

By Bella Butler MANAGING EDITOR

GALLATIN COUNTY – Several local entities put dollars on the table when another hurdle in the yearslong process to get TIGER grant roadwork off the ground in Big Sky when the latest construction bids left a multi-million-dollar shortfall between costs and available funds.  

Of the recent construction bids received by Gallatin County, the lower of the two still left a more than $3.1 million gap between the $6.1 million in available funding for construction and the bid. Within two weeks from when Gallatin County opened the bids, both Madison and Gallatin counties, the Big Sky Resort Area District and the Montana Department of Transportation had each committed additional funds to close the gap so the long-awaited construction can begin this summer.  

After some back and forth with Gallatin County, which is the official recipient of the grant, MDT agreed to pitch in more than $2 million, leaving a remaining deficit of $1 million. The two counties and the resort tax board each committed roughly $333,333, or a third of that remaining $1 million.

The resort tax board approved the use of funds on March 30. Gallatin County followed with a commitment on April 4 and Madison County committed to the remainder on April 5.

“The decision to commit was not a difficult one,” Heckler said on April 6. Everyone recognizes the importance of improving Montana Highway 64, he added, regardless of which county it’s in.

At their March 28 meeting, Gallatin County commissioners acknowledged that only 11 percent of the planned work is in Madison County. The commissioners, as well as Heckler, also noted that the entire MT 64, along which most of the work is planned, is used to access the Big Sky portion of Madison County, regardless of where the construction is taking place.

In Madison County’s commitment, it agreed to provide the $333,333 over two years.

“There’s a difference between commitment and cash flow,” Heckler said. In the commission’s upcoming fiscal year budgeting, Heckler said they’ll locate where the money will come from.

Similarly, when the resort tax board unanimously approved additional funding at its meeting, it did not identify from where it would draw the money. Sarah Blechta, chair of the resort tax board, said the board will evaluate its options when their funding is needed.

Gallatin County applied for the $10.2 million TIGER grant in 2017 and received funds in 2019.

The project includes seven new turn lanes, a new traffic signal, pedestrian infrastructure and new buses, and other components. In Gallatin County’s first round of bids, it received a single bid more than $3 million over budget.

The second round of bids, opened in February 2021, yielded no offers. Since the first bid round, developer Lone Mountain Land Company as well as the Montana Department of Transportation undertook some of the projects originally within the TIGER grant work scope. Collectively, those projects cost approximately $1.5 million.

The most recent bids, one submitted by Riverside Contracting, Inc., the other from Treasure State, Inc., came in at approximately $8.8 million and $11.2 million respectively.

Next, Gallatin County will award a bid before moving forward with summer construction. The project is expected to take two years.

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