By Ron VandenBoom
Sen. Sam Kitzenberg, R. Glasgow, is trying to squelch one more rumor about his proposed four-lane highway bill (SB-3) before it comes up for debate on the floor of the Montana House of Representatives he hopes sometime this week.
Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, appears to be responsible for starting the rumor that language in SB-3 could be used to prevent construction or reconstruction of previously approved highway projects that would widen or improve Highway 2.
SB-3 would provide for the creation of 600 miles of four-lane highway from the North Dakota border to Idaho alone the route of Highway 2.
Jergeson first expressed his concern about the language in the bill publicly during a meeting held in Havre on Friday, Feb. 23.
Jergeson said at that time he was concerned about the language in the current bill, explaining that he believed it could be interpreted in such a way as to block any improvement projects now on the drawing board for Highway 2.
To counter what he sees as a flaw in SB-3, Jergeson has proposed an amendment to the bill, SB-000302ace, that states the department, while seeking feder-al funding for the four-lane project, shall proceed with any projects slated for the highway that have been previously approved.
If the amendment is added to the current SB-3, Kitzenberg said, the bill would then have to be returned to the Senate to be voted on again.
This, he fears, would cause unnecessary delay and, of course, there is always the chance the bill might not pass a second vote in the Senate.
The Montana Department of Transportation has approved about 140 miles of improvements to Highway 2 that are scheduled to begin within the next five years. The projects include a widening of about 40 miles of highway in Jergeson's district between Harlem and Havre.
Jergeson explained his views in a conference call with the Daily News in February saying he would hate to give up 40 miles of improved road in his district and 30 miles of improved road in Democratic Sen. Jon Tester's district for 10 miles of four-lane highway from the North Dakota border to Culbertson.
Kitzenberg said that after the latest rumor started circulating just prior to the mid-term break, he passed the bill on to Greg Petesch, code commissioner for the Montana Legislative Service Division and as Kitzenberg describes him, "the foremost language guru in Helena."
Petesch determined that SB000302.ace is not necessary.
"There is nothing in SB-3 that prohibits the Transportation Commission from selecting segments of U.S. Highway 2 for construction or reconstruction projects that have been previously approved, Petesch said in a letter to Kitzenberg dated March 1. "The exception amended into section 60-2-110, MCA, requires the Transportation Commission to direct the Department to construct a four-lane highway, but does not preclude the Commission from designating portions of U.S. Highway 2 for reconstruction.
Despite Kitzenberg's hope that Petesch's determination would put an end to the rumor, Kitzenberg said Friday that Jergeson still wants SB-3 amended.
Kitzenberg is scheduled to meet with Montana's only Congressman, Rep. Denny Rehberg, today in Helena to ask for his support in funding the four-lane highway project.
Rehberg is in Helena to address a joint session of the legislature. He is already on record as supporting the project, but is also on record as saying it is not going to be easy.