BILLINGS — U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is making the rounds across Montana this week, extolling the virtues of the new U.S. Senate-approved $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal. Approximately $3 billion of that is ear-marked for the Treasure State to help a variety of areas: roads, bridges, expanded broadband internet access, among others.
There is also $144 million set aside for Montana's airports. Tester's visit to Billings Tuesday gave him a chance to shine a light on Billings Logan International Airport's new terminal construction.
“You’re standing in a $60 million project right now that’s about halfway through," said Logan Aviation Director Kevin Ploehn to a group of about 20 inside the new building.
Ploehn, Tester and several other Billings representatives held a press conference in what will be the airport's new A Concourse. After years of talking about the project, the group was excited to see something tangible.
“This is progress. This is moving the ball forward," Tester, a Democrat, said.
Ploehn says the new A gates will open in either November - if everything goes right - or January, so that they don’t cause headaches during the busy holiday season.
He also addressed a number of improvements the significantly larger space will offer: more restrooms; a 'Great Room' that will feature a bar and large, 20-foot windows overlooking the runways to the north; and a TSA security/screening space the airport can grow into.
“We said, 'Whatever we have now, double it,' and then we’ll be ready for the next big thing," he reasoned.
Money is already put aside for this entire project, but Logan will receive $19 million more over the next five years if the infrastructure bill becomes law, which will accelerate the overhaul.
“What this infrastructure will allow us to do is not only finish this building, but now we can get back on the airfield and start doing some of the things we need to do out there," Ploehn said.
Tester echoed the need for continued airport expansion throughout the state.
“We have a hard time getting businesses to come because of airfare costs," he said. "If we get more airlines in here, along with the traditional carriers like United and Delta, that’s going to help have competition, it’s going to help drive down prices, and that’s going to help businesses all over, and that’s what this infrastructure can do.”
The bill is expected to be a top priority for the U.S. House of Representatives when they reconvene Monday, Aug. 23.