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Hill County Commission looking for community input on BUILD grant


Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson said Monday that the county is applying for a $25-million grant to use in three major road projects in the county and is looking for public input on the project, adding that the grant is a lot of money but will be worth it.

“It’s not going to be cheap, guys,” Peterson said during a public meeting at the Great Northern Fairgrounds Community Center. “But by not applying for this grant, we know what the answer is, we are going to continue dealing with the road that we have.”

Six people attended the meeting, and Peterson said he had hoped more would show up.

“I wish more people were here,” he said. “I thought that this was something that we just couldn’t pass up.”

He said that Jan. 14, the Hill County Commission unanimously approved applying for the federal Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grant, he said. The grant, formerly known as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant is a $1.5 billion dollar federal Department of Transportation program for national infrastructure investments in rural roads.

The federal Department of Transportation awards up to $150 million dollars to states each year, he said. The grant is available for state, county, city and tribal governments, and can award anywhere from $5 to $25 million annually to those governments. The BUILD grant also has a separate $15 million grant available for planning, preparation or design of projects, which would include environmental analysis, feasibility studies and other preconstruction activities for surface transportation projects.

Peterson said that in 2018 two grants were awarded to Kalispell and Toston, totalling about $22 million, and Poplar was awarded the planning grant. He said that the state left approximately $125 million of the grant unused.

“That’s a terrible thing to waste,” he said. “… If we do not get applications for this $150 million, the government is going to say, ‘You know what we gave you a chance. You didn’t want to apply for it, so we are going to take it and use it somewhere else.’”

Hill County can submit three applications for projects, he said, and is requesting $25 million, which is the maximum amount of funds. The projects include re-paving or graveling several roads around the county.

The applications need to provide concise descriptions of the projects, such as the transportation challenges the projects are intended to address and how it will address those challenges, Peterson said.

That the roads experience more traffic today than when they were originally constructed, Peterson said. The challenges the county wants to address are transportation for farm-to-market, mail, creating a wider transportation network and reducing accidents and service accidents.

“Those are the things that we are trying to minimize,” he said.

The grant has no matching funds required, he said, but the state does hope the local governments will put in a match.

“It’s $25 million that will go into the community,” he added.

Rural gravel roads project

Peterson said the county has approximately 1,800 miles of road in Hill County and with the grant the county plans to gravel approximately 300 miles of road. The main goal of these public meetings, he said, is to get community input on the roads the community believes to be top priority.

“Some of the roads don’t have very much gravel left,” he said.

Once these roads are identified by the public a list will be compiled by Hill County Road and Bridge Department Supervisor Andy Hanson and his road foreman, he said. They will then review the history and the conditions of these roads and compose the final list of priority roads.

Adding gravel pits in Hill County

Peterson said the county will need to provide 1 million to 1.5 million yards of gravel for the project and hopes to use the grant funds to create its own gravel pits.

He said that in the southern part of the county, they already have good opportunities to quarry for gravel, but the northern half will need some additional work. He said he spoke with representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Montana State University-Northern Professor Tom Welch to try to identify gravel areas that can be used. If the gravel areas identified are large enough and worthwhile the county will move in and start hiring contractors to crush and haul the material.

Graveling roads

A properly graveled road can last up to 10 years, Peterson said, and with minimum water damage can last 20. He added that if the winters are also light on snow the county can gravel during the winter.

Hill County roads have experienced a lot of damage due to flooding, especially the flooding the county experienced in 2018 that was declared a federal disaster. The county did a number of repairs with Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, but the roads still have many spots that still need to be fixed.

Gravel roads have a large amount of traffic involving farm-to-market, grain, fertilizer and the delivery of chemicals, he said. One grain elevator has approximately 25 million bushels of grain traveling on the roads every year. Peterson said that the large amount of travel and weight damages the roads.

Peterson said graveling one mile of road every day would require 30 semitractor-trailers that cost approximately $30,000.

The county will not be reimbursed for the use of its equipment, Peterson said, but it is hoping to use grant funds to purchase five semis, five trailers, two large loaders and two graders if that were allowed.

Overlay and repaving streets in Hill County

The county is also looking to work on streets in the Inverness, Rudyard, Gilford, Kremlin and Box Elder areas as the county’s second project, he said. The paved streets in those towns are in poor condition and a complete overlay and repaving is needed. Peterson said the county is looking at 34 blocks approximately costing $1 million. The project would also be considering including street lights, signs, as well as water and sewer lines in these locations, as part of the project.

Repairing Old Post and Taylor roads

The last project will be working on approximately 2.5 miles of Taylor Road and 2 miles of Old Post Road, Peterson said. He added that he hopes these will be accepted as one project by the state.

Taylor Road, which runs from Beaver Creek Park to Rocky Boy’s Agency, is unsafe because of potholes and is used by Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation residents daily, he said. He added that the road is in need of a new base and paving.

Old Post Road, which continues in Havre as 11th Street West, is a main access road from U.S. Highway 87 to Northern Montana Hospital, MSU-Northern and the city of Havre, he said. The road is also narrow and has a large number of potholes with patchwork repairs done over the past several years. The county wants to do a complete rebuild, which would include widening the road, re-sloping ditches, moving some power lines and adding a bike and walking path.

He said the road was originally the state’s and was received by the county in poor condition. After construction is finished, the county plans to trade the road with MDT, giving it back to the state in exchange for some secondary roads north of Highway 2, which are owned by the state but maintained by the county.

Peterson said he has requested MDT provide the construction plans for both Old Post Road and Taylor Road.

“This is not a small project,” he said.

He said that these three projects could be the beginning of a long-term plan of road repairs.

“If we are successful with this grant, let’s say in three years, we can accomplish all this, if this BUILD grant is still around we can go back for another application,” he said.

Hill County is defined as 100 percent rural, he said, including the city of Havre. The state defines a population under 50,000 residents as rural. The city of Havre can also apply for the BUILD grant, and Peterson said he has already given the Havre City Council information about the grant.

The next meeting about the BUILD grant will be Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Great Northern Fairgrounds Community Center, Peterson said. He added that the commissioners will also hold a meeting about the grant at Spencer’s Hi-Way Bar and Grill in Hingham Monday at 6:30 p.m.

Peterson said that he was disappointed with the turnout for Monday’s meeting and hopes more will be attending and adding input for the future meetings.


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