The proposed Interstate 90 interchange project east of Belgrade received a blow Thursday after the project was passed over by federal transportation officials for a $16 million grant that would have bridged the funding gap, Gallatin County officials said.
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Thursday that 46 projects were funded a total of $511 million through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER grant program, according to a release. The agency received 848 applications requesting a total of $14.29 billion. Of the awards, about $150 million, or 29 percent, went toward rural projects.
The interchange project is about $16 million short and local stakeholders were hoping the grant would fund the shortfall.
The interchange is a joint local effort of the county, Belgrade and the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport at Gallatin Field. The three entities are in a partnership with the Montana Department of Transportation.
Local government officials said the enterprise is still alive despite being cut out of the federal grant.
“I’m disappointed, but I think it will play well for the future highway projects allocated by Congress,” County Commissioner Bill Murdock said. “We didn’t depend on the grant and it’s not the end of world. It would have been nice to get, but it doesn’t delay it.”
Airport director Brian Sprenger said all is not lost and the work put into writing the grant can be recycled for other awards in the future.
“We weren’t anticipating going for it and the timing was just outside of our window, but we could make it happen,” he said. “You have to try for those things and we did. There will be other opportunities and we will be in a better position once those opportunities come forward.”
The project will not only give the airport it’s own independent exit, it will also open up the area south of Belgrade that has experienced rapid growth during the building boom. The interchange would also give emergency workers an unobstructed route across the railroad tracks that divide Belgrade in half along with providing commuters a second highway access to assist traffic flow.
“It’s something we need, I’ll tell you that,” Belgrade Mayor Russ Nelson said. “We need that so we have a way for emergency personnel.”
Securing a TIGER grant was a long shot right from the start, said Larry Watson, county grants administrator. The grant criteria called for linking different forms of transportation, but one of the sticking points was to show on paper how businesses will be affected.
The feds wanted to see economic connections, Watson said. While the interchange will open the potential for future businesses along feeder streets to the highway, the county lacked real plans.
“In terms of a grant, they want to see documented partnerships; they want to see plans in the works,” he said in a July interview. “How many new jobs will be created, not ‘We believe, we think, we hope, we guess.’ I can sit here and guess, but they want something more than what we can guess.”