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The Big Sky Way: We’ve got a TIGER by the tail!

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By Daniel Bierschwale EBS CONTRIBUTOR

Spring is in the air and as wildflowers appear on the Montana landscape so do the orange cones that signal the beginning of road construction season.

As soon as next year, partners will be celebrating the completion of road improvements to Montana Highway 64 (Lone Mountain Trail). This long-anticipated effort will soon be a reality. For a little short-term pain, Big Sky is certain to see huge long-term gain for this primary transportation artery.

Montana 64: A case study for public-private partnership

Most locals have come to know this road enhancement effort as the “MT 64 TIGER” Grant. It may seem odd to characterize road work by the name of a grant, but it certainly emphasizes how critical these funds were to make this work possible. In previous columns we have reviewed several public funding tools used to support services and infrastructure. Most of those tools are implemented through voter approval at the request of local government entities with taxing authority. In the case of the TIGER Grant, significant federal and state funding played a role in fulfilling this critical infrastructure.

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant is a unique opportunity for the U.S. Department of Transportation to invest in critical road, rail, transit, and port projects. The history of this grant in Big Sky dates back to 2017 when a transportation study was commissioned by the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce. Drafted by the Western Transportation Institute (WTI), the study was critical in creating the case for investment by articulating transportation needs. The grant request was submitted by Gallatin County in 2017.

A subsequent $10.3 million award from the program was granted in 2018 and over the course of multiple years and several bid solicitations the project costs began to rise. In the spirit of collaboration and partnership, Montana Department of Transportation, Gallatin County, Madison County, and Big Sky Resort Area District committed to cover the funding gap ensuring the full scope of work would happen. Additional financial support was committed from Lone Mountain Land Company for turn lanes—private support for public infrastructure is very rare.

Vision drives investment

The TIGER Grant is certainly not the only federal funding game in town. Both of Big Sky’s water and sewer districts received funding from the COVID-prompted American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) program. The Big Sky Transportation District recently submitted a request for Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant. Congress authorizes these programs each with its own unique set of objectives, rules, and allocated funds. In 2021, $1.2 trillion was authorized through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)—time will tell how this program plays out for Montana. Federal programs help ease the burden on local government and most importantly incentivize collaboration, partnership, and local matching funds.

Our community is grateful for those who had the vision to pursue the TIGER grant.

What lessons can we learn from this community milestone? To start, it’s evident that we as a community must mobilize around vital needs. As citizens (and hopefully voters), you can and should encourage your elected officials (local, county, state, federal) to plan, adapt, and collaborate to address needs. Infrastructure is extremely expensive and government needs to meet in the middle for our community to achieve our fullest potential. Encourage your elected officials to participate and prioritize needs through a partnership lens.

Help be part of the solution

With project funding secured and crews mobilized in Big Sky, the work is about to begin. Construction cones will line the roads and crews will be working hard to complete the efforts on Montana 64. There are a few additional tips for success. First and most importantly, determine if you even need a car on the road. Consider biking or walking to work, if feasible. If you have a flexible work schedule, consider altering drive times or working remotely. Participate in the GoGallatin: Big Sky One Less Car program or utilize the Skyline public transit system. Together we can play an important role in mitigating congestion. Last, but certainly not least, please exercise kindness in your driving habits and be friendly to the contractors who are working to improve your road network.  

Eventually we will let the tiger go and the cones will hibernate—I promise.

Daniel Bierschwale is the Executive Director of the Big Sky Resort Area District (BSRAD). As a dedicated public servant, he is committed to increasing civic engagement and voter education. Many ballot issues impact government services and public funding including subsequent property tax impacts. BSRAD is the local government agency that administers Resort Tax, which offsets property taxes while also funding numerous community-wide nonprofit programs.

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