By Tim Leeds
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, said the hearing on Senate Bill 3 Thursday, Feb. 1, proposing widening U.S. Highway 2 to four-lanes, went pretty well.
He said there were about 45 proponents at the hour-and-a-half hearing, with no one speaking in opposition.
"Word is it'll be on the floor of the Senate to debate," Tester said.
The problem will be on the fiscal notice, he said.
"Mere billion-and-a-third," he said, "so, it's going to be tough to get anything done this year. But let's just start, I mean, you know, things can go forward from here ... You've got to start somewhere."
Rep. Merlin Wolery, R-Rudyard, said the state needs to work on the highway, but he isn't sure how much can be done at this point.
"Realistically, we won't ever probably see it all the way across the state," he said. "But we should start on it, from sections as we go. But I'm not sure where it's going to go from committee."
Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre, said that he, along with many people from the Hi-Line, testified in favor of the bill. He said he told the committee that he and his district support the bill.
"I thought it was a good hearing, and the proponents came a long way in support of it," he said.
Musgrove said the way the situation appears, something needs to be started on the project right now.
"From the looks of it, if we don't start now, we might just have to wait longer and longer," he said.
He said Dave Galt of the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) said they are already planning on widening the highway with wider shoulders. Musgrove said Galt was asked if it was possible to buy additional right-of-way while doing this, to allow for expansion to a four-lane later. He said Galt said the cost of doing this seems to be prohibitive for this legislative session.
Musgrove said Galt told the senators that while Montana has a good funding formula with the federal government for highway projects, they have to be careful about how much they seek. Musgrove said this is understandable, since MDT has to look at the highways in the entire state, not just Highway 2.
Sen. Sam Kitzenberg, R-Glasgow, sponsored the bill. He said in previous interviews that widening Highway 2 to four lanes is crucial for both preventing accidents and deaths on the highway and for economic development on the Hi-Line, which he said would benefit the entire state.