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Tester announces $10.2 million infrastructure grant for East Helena development • Daily Montanan

U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) announced Friday that East Helena has received a $10.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to redesign Valley Drive and expand road infrastructure in the city, where new housing developments are currently being built.

The city will receive the funds through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant program, and 83 percent of the funds will come from the bipartisan infrastructure bill that Tester helped pass.

“I don't have to tell the people in this room that one of the biggest challenges facing Montana today is the high cost of housing,” Tester told the group of about 60 people gathered in the atrium of the new East Helena High School. “From places like here in Helena, Bozeman and Missoula to smaller communities across the state like my hometown of Big Sandy, I hear from people who are struggling with the rising costs and lack of affordable housing.”

Tester praised East Helena officials for putting together what he called a “rock-solid” grant proposal to improve road infrastructure along Valley Drive, where the Highland Meadows Subdivision is being built, with 319 lots targeted at younger families and where more housing could be built in the future.

Helena Area Habitat for Humanity also recently received a $100,000 grant to be used to apply for zoning of a 1,150-home development that the organization hopes to build with a variety of housing types.

Tester said he personally spoke with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and urged him to approve the city's grant request, which was originally for $12.5 million.

“Infrastructure is expensive. Local communities can't afford it. The federal government needs to step in to improve connectivity and public safety and increase business opportunities for companies. It's a win-win for everyone,” Tester said.

East Helena Mayor Kelly Harris and U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) announce a $10 million RAISE grant for East Helena on June 21, 2024. (Photo by Blair Miller, Daily Montanan)

East Helena Mayor Kelly Harris said expanding the city's infrastructure and housing projects is the next step in East Helena's identity evolution – from a smelter town that supported local workers to a city that uses the old smelter site to build a new identity.

Jacob Kuntz, Habitat for Humanity's Helena-area executive director, called the grant an “amazing moment” given the city's growth. He said more than 70% of people in the Helena area are eligible for Habitat for Humanity's programs – families earning 60% or less of the area median income – which he said makes up the majority of the workforce.

“People are not being able to fulfill their dream of owning an affordable home, and we need to do something about it,” Kuntz said. “…We've made great strides in building the stable, permanent, safe housing we needed, and now we need to find ways to build stable neighborhoods to meet the need for stable homes.”

Dan Rispens, superintendent of East Helena Public Schools, said expanding residential areas around the new high school will expand East Helena's community and provide children with greater safety on their way to school.

“Especially the corridor we're talking about here, where thousands of school children and mothers and fathers are trying to get from one place to another safely, is going to make a huge difference, and I don't know how to tell you how excited I am,” Rispens said.

Anna Harden

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