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Russell Street Construction

In this November photo, construction workers from Dick Anderson Construction work on pouring the piers that will hold up the new northbound lanes of the Russell Street Bridge. The $29 million project has been underway since last spring.

The money’s there, for now, to carry on long-term construction projects around Missoula that rely on federal funding.

More than a month into the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, Dick Anderson Construction continues work on the deck of a new Russell Street Bridge over the Clark Fork River.

“There just isn’t any impact yet,” Ed Toavs, who heads the Montana Department of Transportation’s Missoula division, said Wednesday. “If the shutdown continues, say, beyond February or longer, as an agency we’ll have to kind of regroup to see what the horizon looks like, which no one knows.”

Martel Construction's busy at Missoula International Airport, preparing for demolition of the west end of the airport terminal with no work stoppage in sight.

“We have grant funding for the project. Those grants have already been issued and we have been able to draw against them,” said airport director Cris Jensen.

Martel, the general contractor, is in the early stages of a multi-year, $100 million reconstruction project that will take at least three years to complete. Jensen said it’s possible the next round of money in April or May could be in jeopardy, “but even that’s not certain.”

“What we could potentially do is acquire debt and then the grant money would pay that back, although if it was a real big number we might not do that,” said Jensen.

Airport officials have shied away from using the term “phases” for the terminal rebuild, mainly because there are so many parts to the plan. The project has at least eight “stop points” when construction could be halted should funding dry up. Airline user fees built into the price of each ticket are also part of the financing package.

“We have contingencies along the way so that if funding is not in place, we’re not building something that’s not paid for,” Jensen said.

The airport hosted a resource fair on Friday for Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Forest Service employees and their families. 

Jensen said five financial institutions, the Montana Food Network and Missoula Food Bank, the Missoula Ravalli Transportation Management Association's iRide vanpool, Animeals and other services were on hand to help furloughed employees work through financial needs and obligations during the shutdown.

"We fed them lunch and had kind of a speed dating thing where they could go around and visit with the different services," Jensen said. "We tried to schedule it at shift change for TSA but they kind of trickled in. They had to come and go." 

The Forest Service, Federal Aviation Administration and the National Weather Service all have presences at the airport. Jensen said one of the challenges airport officials faced was during the shutdown is they don't have the contacts with the other agencies that they do with TSA. 

 U.S. Transportation furloughs -
as of Jan. 14, 2019
 Staff at workFurloughed Staff Total 
Fed. Aviation Admin.  30,743 13,944 44,687
 Fed. Highway Admin. 2,682 0 2,682
 Office of the Secretary 1,071 399 1,470
 Fed. Motor Carrier Safety Admin. 1,158 0 1,158
 Fed. Railroad Admin. 515 420 935
 Maritime Admin. 466 274 740
 National Hwy Traffic Safety Admin. 257 330 587
 Pipeline & Hazmat Safety Admin. 233 332 565
 Fed. Transit Admin. 62 493 555
 Inspector General 110 309 419
 St. Lawrence Seaway Develop. Corp. 125 0 125
 Total: 37,422 16,501 53,923

*Source: U.S. Department of Transportation

Over on Russell Street, completion of the new bridge to the upstream side of the old one is slated for the end of March. When it’s done, traffic will be diverted onto it and demolition will begin on the existing bridge. That includes removal of piers from the river before high water. 

Toavs said the money is in hand.

“It’s business as usual. We don’t anticipate any issue with the current projects we have, like Russell Street or the Frenchtown Frontage Road,” he said.

That’s the case statewide as well, Lori Ryan, information officer for MDT, said in an email Tuesday.

“We are seeing some impacts in getting some federal approvals from resource agencies” such as the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ryan said. “But as of today it has not had an impact on MDT’s program.”

None of the Federal Highway Administration's 2,682 workers are furloughed, according to a DOT shutdown plan released last month and revised on Jan. 11. 

The FWHA funds interstate, U.S. and most state highway projects with dollars not from annual appropriations but, in large part, from gas and diesel taxes through the Highway Trust Fund.

On the other hand, nearly 18,000 of the FAA’s 27,000 employees were furloughed when President Donald Trump shut down the government three days before Christmas. Roughly 3,500 safety inspectors and engineers were called back three weeks into the shutdown “to perform duties to ensure continuous operational safety of the entire national airspace," an FAA spokesman said.

As the record shutdown reaches Day 34 on Thursday, uneasiness only continues to grow among state and local transportation officials and project contractors.

“We’re hoping that Congress will pass a full appropriations bill within this (fiscal) year so we can deliver everything we’ve pulled in to deliver,” Toavs said.

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