Federal grant “huge” deal for local transportation needs
Award sign of team work in community
David Kack started getting texts on the afternoon of March 6 congratulating him on the news the U.S. Department of Transportation will award Big Sky with a $10.3 million TIGER grant. Earlier in the day, Kack met with the Big Sky Transportation District and discussion circled around the profound funding challenges faced by the Skyline bus system. So when the texts started showing up about the TIGER grant, the news at first seemed too good to be true.
But then Kack saw it pop up on the website of U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, who released a celebratory statement saying, “Gallatin County is leading the state in economic growth. This grant will help the county meet the infrastructure demands of this rapid growth and continue creating good-paying jobs in the community.”
The statement went on to tout how the grant will add approximately seven left turn lanes at key intersections along Highway 64, install road signage, construct a pedestrian tunnel at Little Coyote Road, extend an existing paved pedestrian trail and purchase four motor coaches and six vans to enhance transit service in the area.
TIGER stands for “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.” In the Daines’ press release, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao chimed in, explaining, “TIGER grants are direct federal investments in projects that will improve our surface transportation at the national, regional or local level.”
The idea to apply for the grant originated around 2015 with Kack and his collaborations with the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce. In addition to acting as the coordinator for the Big Sky Transportation District, Kack also works at the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University. WTI and the engineering firm Sanderson Stewart in Bozeman combined forces to analyze Big Sky’s transportation issues. That work was funded by Madison and Gallatin counties and Big Sky’s resort tax. It all generated important technical details, which went into the grant application and was submitted in October 2017.
Kack thought Big Sky wouldn’t hear about the highly competitive grant awards until April or May. Around 6 percent of applicants are chosen, said Kack, and if Big Sky had not been picked, it might have been some time before public dollars flowed toward much needed transportation improvements.
“I think it’s huge because it is $10.3 million to address infrastructure issues along Montana 64 that were not planned to be addressed for at least another five years,” said Kack. “Given the significant growth in Big Sky, this is just a real shot in the arm because it allows us to utilize a new funding source.”
Like Kack, Big Sky Chamber of Commerce CEO Candace Carr Strauss also got word of the grant award on the evening of March 6 and her reaction was “disbelief… speechless.”
Strauss said the grant award shows what can be accomplished through collaborations. She spotlighted past work done by her predecessors at the chamber and Ciara Wolfe with the Big Sky Community Organization, who “worked with us on expanding solutions for pedestrians and non-motorized users.”
Going down her long list of thank yous, Strauss also praised the resort tax district for funding the initial study that allowed the grant proposal to come together. “Again, partnership. Coming together to make it happen,” said Strauss.
Strauss added that it was inspiring to see how investment in the transportation study led to money coming back to Big Sky.
“We need to come together, all of us who worked on this, to celebrate,” said Strauss. “This has been many, many people before me. We’ll make a big victory party to commemorate that.”
Ryan Hamilton with Town Center also rejoiced following the grant award, saying, “I am grateful to hear the news that Big Sky received approval of its TIGER grant application. As with most things, this effort was several years in the making, and we were successful, at least in part, because the community—including local organizations, stakeholders, and the counties—worked together to apply for this grant. We here at Town Center are looking forward to seeing the capital improvements to Lone Mountain Trail that will provide much-needed, multi-modal public safety enhancements and will help support economic development.”