(HELENA) The city of Helena is expected to receive more than $208,000 in new road maintenance funding this year, after the Montana Legislature approved an increase in the state fuel tax. Lewis and Clark County could get about $100,000.
Public works leaders say the additional revenue will greatly expand options for how local governments address their infrastructure needs.
“It gives them an opportunity to actually do some bigger projects,” said Lewis and Clark County Engineer Dan Karlin.
House Bill 473 raised the state fuel tax for the first time in more than 20 years. It took effect on July 1, so the revenues are likely to be much larger in the future.
The state allocates fuel tax revenues among cities, towns and counties based on their population and road miles. In order to receive the money, each local government has to specifically outline what road construction or maintenance projects it will use the money for.
Karlin said Lewis and Clark County wants to use its whole allotment for 2018 on a single project, to simplify the process the first time they claim the funding. One possibility is to use it to rebuild the intersection of Lewis Street and Lake Helena Drive, near Eastgate Elementary School outside East Helena.
“It’s deteriorating pretty badly,” said Karlin. “We have some drainage issues going there, I’m sure people have noticed. It’s a pretty decent-sized dip.”
In Helena, public works director Randall Camp said the new gas tax revenue will become a big part of the city’s street repair budget.
“It’s a substantial increase for us,” he said.
Many of the city’s streets have not been substantially rebuilt in decades. Camp said the city has identified almost $30 million of road projects that will need to be completed in the coming years.
“Paving projects are typically right around a million dollars a mile, and that’s not counting the infrastructure under the streets,” he said.
The Helena City Commission will make the final decision on how to use the city’s share of the gas tax money. Public works leaders will present the commission with updates on some planned projects during an administrative meeting Wednesday afternoon. They could also start the discussion on how to spend the new revenue.
Camp said one option is to spend some of the money on two long-awaited reconstruction projects – one on West Main Street south of downtown and one along Front Street near the Great Northern Town Center. The city plans to open bidding for the West Main project this week.
Both Helena and Lewis and Clark County leaders say they have made no final decisions about the gas tax money, and that a lot of planning still needs to be done.
“It’s always interesting working out the budgets and figuring out where we can best utilize the tax dollars,” Karlin said.
Jefferson County will receive more than $36,000 in fuel tax money, while Broadwater County will receive about $22,000. More than $17,000 is allocated to East Helena, $14,000 to Townsend and $11,000 to Boulder.
You can find a full list of the allocations here.