GREAT FALLS — Montana and its infrastructure will be getting an extra chunk of change for the holidays. The Great Falls International Airport is getting $9.5 million over the next five years thanks to the federal Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act and will be put toward several projects.
The announcement was made on Monday morning at the airport, and the event was attended by US Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), Great Falls International Airport Director John Faulkner, Cascade County Chamber of Commerce President Shane Etzwiler, and Brad Talcott of James Talcott Construction.
Airport director John Faulkner said the money came as a surprise, and he is grateful to have extra funds to help finish projects around the airport that he says have needed to happen for some time. There are several projects he wants to complete in the next year and having the extra funds will allow the airport to operate more effectively as well, he says.
“Everything we do, we schedule around flights. That’s our number one priority. I never try to close infrastructure down. I try to find ways to phase it so we can get it to work,” Faulkner said.
He continued, “I know TSA is doing their best to screen bags down there but it’s not an optimal environment. They need some more equipment. We need to address their needs too and get that area expanded so they’ve got more room to work. There are three competing priorities, the front walk and the cracks, helping TSA expand, and creating more room in the lobby for passengers.”
Faulkner added that the timing of this was great given the recent re-opening of the US-Canada border, bringing more Canadian travelers to the airport for the upcoming holiday season.
Tester said the airport is a crucial part of north-central Montana, and the funding will also create good-paying jobs for the renovations at the Great Falls airport and others - the bill is expected to provide about $144 million to airports across the state.
He added that it was a challenge at first to find common ground with all the other nine senators, but they were able to come together and get President Biden to sign the bill last week. “When you put five folks that are Republicans and five folks that are Democrats in a room, then there become challenges on what’s your priority, how are you going to pay for it? You know, it took us a while,” he said.
“The one thing that set this group of ten apart than any other group that I’ve been in in my time in the U.S. Senate is every one of us wanted to get to yes. We didn’t want to get to no, we wanted to get something accomplished, and in the end that made all the difference in the world.”
‘I fly through this airport weekly, so I know firsthand how vital it is to growing the Electric City's economy and keeping folks connected,” Tester said.
Here are some details of the bill, according to CBS News:
Roads and bridges
- The bill provides $110 billion to repair the nation's aging highways, bridges and roads. According to the White House, 173,000 total miles of America's highways and major roads and 45,000 bridges are in poor condition. And the almost $40 billion for bridges is the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system, according to the Biden administration.
- The $39 billion for public transit in the legislation expands transportation systems, improves accessibility for people with disabilities and provides dollars to state and local governments to buy zero-emission and low-emission buses. The Department of Transportation estimates that the current repair backlog is more than 24,000 buses, 5,000 rail cars, 200 stations and thousands of miles of track and power systems.
Passenger and freight rail
- To reduce Amtrak's maintenance backlog, which has worsened since Superstorm Sandy nine years ago, the bill provides $66 billion to improve the rail service's 457-mile-long Northeast Corridor as well as other routes. It's less than the $80 billion Mr. Biden — who famously rode Amtrak from Delaware to D.C. during his time in the Senate — originally asked for, but it would be the largest federal investment in passenger rail service since Amtrak was founded 50 years ago.
- The bill spends $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations, which the administration says are critical to accelerating the use of electric vehicles to curb climate change. It also provides $5 billion for the purchase of electric school buses and hybrids, reducing reliance on school buses that run on diesel fuel.
- The legislation's $65 billion for broadband access aims to improve internet services for rural areas, low-income families and tribal communities. Most of the money would be made available through grants to states.
- To protect against the widespread power outages that have become more frequent in recent years, the bill spends $65 billion to improve the reliability and resiliency of the nation's power grid. It also boosts carbon capture technologies and more environmentally-friendly electricity sources like clean hydrogen.
- The bill spends $25 billion to improve runways, gates and taxiways at airports and to improve terminals. It would also improve infrastructure at air traffic control facilities.
Water and wastewater
- To improve the safety of the nation's drinking water, the legislation will spend $55 billion on water and wastewater infrastructure. The bill includes $15 billion to replace lead pipes and $10 billion to address water contamination from polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — chemicals that were used in the production of Teflon and have also been used in firefighting foam, water-repellent clothing and many other items.