Proposal wins Big Sky $10.3 million for road improvements
MONTANA LIVING — The narrow, winding road between Bozeman and Big Sky is about to get an upgrade.
A proposal written by researchers at Montana State University’s Western Transportation Institute has resulted in a $10.3 million federal grant for improving safety and traffic flow on the road leading to the Big Sky community.
The funding comes from one of the most highly coveted and competitive sources of federal transportation dollars: the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, known as TIGER.
“I think everyone in Big Sky is thrilled, because everyone knows the issues on that road and the need for improvements,” said David Kack, a program manager at WTI who played a leading role in drafting the grant proposal.
The TIGER grant will be used for a variety of roadway improvements as well as expanded public transportation, all with an aim to alleviate the stresses that have been placed on Montana Highway 64 — also called Lone Mountain Trail — as Big Sky has grown around the major mountain resort, Kack said. The funding, which will be awarded to Gallatin County, lasts until 2025 but it is anticipated that the project will be completed as quickly as possible, he said.
The project will install seven left-turn lanes, expand the existing pedestrian trail system, build a pedestrian underpass and add four buses and six vans to the existing Skyline public transportation system that runs within Big Sky and between Big Sky and the greater Bozeman area.
Without the grant, Kack said, it would be difficult to fund such an ambitious package of improvements because the 9-mile-long stretch of Highway 64 straddles two counties and primarily serves Big Sky, which is an unincorporated community that can’t levy taxes.
“This is a great way to get all these things done and not have to figure out which county or other entity is going to pony up the money,” Kack said.
Fewer than 6 percent of applicants receive TIGER funding, Kack noted. He said WTI’s proposal was an outgrowth of a long partnership with the Big Sky community.
In 2002, the Big Sky Transportation District asked Kack and other WTI researchers to provide guidance about operating and expanding public transportation. That grew into regular consultations. In 2015, the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce hired WTI to conduct a series of listening sessions about the community’s transportation needs and draft a report, which outlined some of the improvements in the TIGER project.
That report became the basis for a more detailed study conducted by Sanderson Stewart, a major engineering firm founded by MSU alumnus Robert Sanderson. Kack collaborated with Sanderson Stewart and had hard numbers to back up his recommendations in the grant proposal, which Gallatin County submitted on behalf of the Big Sky community, he said.
“It was kind of a perfect timing, getting these things done in succession and ultimately getting the funding,” Kack said.
There is no direct gain to WTI or himself for getting the grant, Kack said. When he read the call for grant applications, his and WTI’s longtime work with Big Sky seemed like a natural fit, he said.
“We think this really highlights that part of the land-grant mission at MSU — to improve the community and the state that we work in,” Kack said.