Montana State Senator Shane Morigeau still remembers the pain of losing a cousin who was killed while walking along Highway 93.

And even though it was decades ago he says that tragedy, and many more are one of the primary reasons to celebrate the funding secured to rebuild the highway through the heart of the Flathead Reservation.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says it's a prime example of how the bi-partisan Infrastructure Act approved two years ago is such a major step in highway safety.

RELATED: New Money Puts Missoula Airport Construction on "Home Stretch"

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A project long overdue

At a press conference along the highway in Evaro Tuesday, Senator Morigeau, and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Chair Michael Dolson thanked Buttigieg, and Senator Jon Tester, for working to secure $100 million dollars to finally replace the dangerous, narrow stretch of highway south of Ronan.

L-R, CSKT Tribal Chair Michael Dolson, US DOT Sec. Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Shane Morigeau; Dennis Bragg photo
L-R, CSKT Tribal Chair Michael Dolson, US DOT Sec. Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Shane Morigeau; Dennis Bragg photo

"Not only is your work saving lives for us here in this community, but it's also reducing wildlife collisions with animals such as grizzly bears and moose," Morigeau said in prepared remarks. "So your work is just so critical for our community when it comes to tourism and safety as well along this highway corridor."

 "It was in the top 10 highways in the nation for accidents and death," Dolson noted. "So good to have the projects that are going forward to make it as safe as possible."

It took cooperation

Buttigieg says the project wouldn't have been possible without the full cooperation of the tribe and the State of Montana, given a route complicated by wetlands and wildlife.

"Part of that danger is due to outdated surface conditions. Part of it's due to the lack of a separated protected bike or pedestrian path, especially when you've got freight or logging trucks doing 70 miles an hour just a few feet away."

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg; Dennis Bragg photo
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg; Dennis Bragg photo

Lots of money, but more needed for maintenance

While Buttigieg celebrated the investment in roads, and the Missoula Airport, during his visit. He told Peter Christian in a taped appearance on "Talkback" that the states will have to innovate to fill the holes in gas taxes and other funding sources if all the new improvements are to be properly maintained.

"We don't dictate that and that's OK. You know what? What makes sense in Montana might be different than what makes sense in in Michigan, where I live, "Buttigieg observed. "But we do need to make sure that we make those investments cause if you don't, it's kind of like a leaky roof. You might feel like you're saving money from year to year by by waiting. But in the end, it's only going to be that much more expensive."

We'll have that full interview with the Transportation Secretary later this week on Talkback.

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Gallery Credit: Ashley