Is Montana Prepared if Fed $$ Stream Dwindles?

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Kalispell, Montana (photo by Katie Brady via Wikimedia Commons)

(Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) -- Montana Department of Transportation Director Jim Lynch says the state is prepared to weather any short-term interruption in the federal transportation program.

The re-authorization bill expired in 2009. Since that time Congress has passed a number of continuing resolutions to keep funds flowing to states.

Still, there’s uncertainty. A year ago, some state transportation officials were concerned Congress wasn’t going to pass a continuing resolution. Some told members of Congress--and highway contractor--that they would suspend work.

“Arizona, it was going to affect 17 projects,” says Lynch. “North Dakota put together a report (showing) that it would affect 76 projects totaling $193 million dollars.”

He says the reason states had to do that was because of the way these projects are funded. States pay contractors up front, then receive reimbursement from the federal government. Lynch says Congress ultimately did pass a continuing resolution, so construction work continued.

He says Montana did not have that problem because it made the decision to keep enough cash on hand to cover its bills in case there is a delay in the federal reimbursement.

A continuing resolution for transportation funding expired at the end of last year, but Congress extended the deadline to March 4, 2011.  Looking at today's Congress, Lynch likens the situation to what happened a year ago--although he's not worried about Montana.

“I fully expect we’ll have another continuing resolution before March 4th,” he says. “It probably won’t have a highway bill by March 4th, that’s just not going to happen.”

Lynch says that’s not a bad thing for Montana because the state is faring well under the current law.

He says he’s watching the discussion to ban earmarks because several expensive, high profile transportation projects were funded through earmarks sought by the state’s Congressional delegation. Lynch says they were intersystem and sought by the communities.

“It wasn’t funding for bridges to nowhere,” he says.