Engineering group gives low grades for Montana infrastructure

Industrials Associated Press

A group of professional engineers say in a report slated for release Tuesday that Montana schools, wastewater treatment facilities and other infrastructure have slid into disrepair and are in need of investment.

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The "report card" on the state's infrastructure comes from the state chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Lowest marks went to the state's public school system, which received a D-minus.

The majority of Montana's 2000 public school buildings were built before 1970, according to the engineering group. It said 66 percent of schools need repairs, and recommended that state officials consider creating an endowment program to help pay for improvements.

The state's cumulative grade was a C-minus, which "basically says that our state's infrastructure is mediocre," said Melissa Matassa-Stone, a Missoula engineer who chaired the committee that produced the report.

"We see functioning systems — don't get me wrong," Matassa-Stone said. "But we see general signs of deterioration. It's not good enough."

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The report card comes a day after Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock proposed a budget that calls for $300 million for water, sewer, roads and broadband Internet projects across the state.

Republicans in the Legislature also have pushed for more infrastructure investment. But there's disagreement from the two sides on how to pay for it. Bullock wants to use mostly bonds; Republicans favor spending cash.

Wastewater treatment, dams and drinking water also got below-average grades in Tuesday's report.

The highest mark — a B-minus — went to solid waste disposal, which the engineering society said was in relatively good condition with reasonably affordable rates for consumers.

The group releases a report on national infrastructure needs every four years. This year marks the first time one has been done for Montana, said society spokeswoman Becky Moylan.