In an effort to secure a $23 million federal grant, Missoula sent an eight-person delegation to Washington, D.C., earlier this month to advocate for a massive infrastructure project in the Mullan Road area.
All three members of the Missoula County Board of Commissioners took the trip to meet in person with federal transportation officials, as did both the heads of the county and city Public Works, Shane Stack and Jeremy Keene, and a Missoula City Council member, Jordan Hess, who has expertise in transportation.
A couple of county officials from Community and Planning Services also traveled to advocate for Missoula.
In D.C. from Sept. 9 to 14, local officials are hoping to secure the BUILD grant for an infrastructure overhaul around Mullan Road.
The trip cost Missoula County more than $10,400 for six officials, and the expense doesn’t guarantee the grant will be awarded. However, a similar fly-in by Kalispell officials helped secure a BUILD grant for that community last year, Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said Monday. This is the third time Missoula County has applied for the grant on this project, but he said he thinks the extra investment in meeting face-to-face with federal officials will pay off.
“Rather than simply blow the dust off and send the application in again and hope we strike pay dirt, we decided to do some more homework than in the past and see what others have done to be successful,” Strohmaier said. “I feel super positive about it from the standpoint of the feedback we got from our congressional delegation.”
The agenda also included time for the commissioners to attend National Association of Counties events and meet with congressional staffers and federal officials to advocate on a range of county-related issues.
The $23 million grant would fund work on completing two north-south connection roads between Mullan and Broadway, George Elmer Drive and Mary Jane Boulevard, as well as connecting those two with an extended England Boulevard. The road work would make the area more accessible for development and ease congestion around Hellgate Elementary and Middle Schools. It would also support construction of a new Veterans Affairs clinic and restore a half-mile of the Grant Creek floodplain.
The county estimates the improved road access will spur development of around 3,000 homes, a third of what the county anticipates the growing population will need by 2035.
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The grant would be supplemented by $16.4 million in local funding slated for the project if the grant comes through.
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines visited the site of the proposed work last month. The Montana Republican is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which plays a key role in allocating the Department of Transportation grant. He said he would push for the Missoula application to be approved.
The Missoula County website also lists Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte as supporters of the grant project.
Strohmaier said the grant approval process starts with the Department of Transportation, which inspects the application for technical details, and then goes into a political realm, where having enthusiastic support from the state’s federal elected officials is crucial.
“That’s kind of where the scales can tip in our favor,” he said. “It became pretty clear that part of that tipping is a function of the enthusiasm level of Jon Tester, Steve Daines and Greg Gianforte.”
The BUILD grant advocacy trip to D.C. also included 11 members of the local private sector with an interest in the project, none of which were funded by the county. Strohmaier said the commissioners and Councilor Hess also met with the president of the Rail Passenger Association to advocate for bringing passenger rail back to Missoula.
Missoula County communications coordinator Allison Franz noted the expense of sending the six county officials to D.C. came at a cost of just 0.00045% of the amount of grant money it could help to secure.
The county could know if the grant is awarded by November or December, Strohmaier said.