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Tester announces $10.2 million infrastructure grant for East Helena development

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Tester announces $10.2 million infrastructure grant for East Helena development

Jun 21, 2024 | 5:27 pm ET
By Blair Miller
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Tester announces $10.2 million infrastructure grant for East Helena development
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East Helena Public Schools East U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) announces a $10 million RAISE Grant for East Helena at East Helena High School on June 21, 2024. (Photo by Blair Miller, Daily Montanan)

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, announced Friday that East Helena had been granted a $10.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to redevelop Valley Drive and build out more road infrastructure in the city where new housing developments are expanding.

The city will receive the funding through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant program, and 83% of the funding comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that Tester helped to pass.

“I don’t have to tell the folks in this room 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, all the way to smaller communities across the state like my hometown of Big Sandy, I hear folks who are struggling with the rising costs and the shortage of affordable housing.”

Tester praised the East Helena officials who put together what he said was a “rock-solid” grant application to improve road infrastructure along Valley Drive, where the Highland Meadows Subdivision is being built that includes 319 lots geared toward younger families, and where more housing could be built in the future.

Helena Area Habitat for Humanity also recently received a $100,000 grant that will go toward a subdivision application for a 1,1500-home development the organization wants to build involving different types of homes.

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

“Infrastructure is expensive. The local communities can’t do it; the federal government needs to be there to improve connectivity, public safety and increase the opportunity for businesses to be able to be in business. It’s a win all the way around,” Tester said.

East Helena Public Schools East Helena Mayor Kelly Harris and U.S. Sen. 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 and U.S. Sen. 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 the expansion of the city’s infrastructure and housing developments marked the next step in East Helena’s identity – moving from a smelting town that supported local workers to one that utilizes the old smelting land to build a new identity.

Helena Area Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Jacob Kuntz called the grant award an “amazing moment” as the city expands. He said more than 70% of people living in the Helena area qualify for Habitat for Humanity programs – families earning 60% or less of area median income — which he said accounted for most of the workforce.

“People are being left out of the dream of acquiring an affordable home and need to do something about it,” Kuntz said. “…We’ve made some great gains in building strong, durable, safe housing that we needed, and now we need to find ways of building strong neighborhoods to backfill strong homes.”

East Helena Public Schools Superintendent Dan Rispens said the build-out of neighborhoods around the new high school would expand the East Helena community and keep children safer going to and from school.

“Especially the corridor that we’re talking about right here, where we’ve got thousands of schoolkids and moms and dads trying to get from one place to the other safely, this is going to make a huge difference, and I just don’t know how to tell you how excited I am,” Rispens said.