Few places in America are more desolate than Whitetail, Mont., a place where the roads are more likely to be mowed than paved. A border post with Canada located there sees an average of less than two passenger cars per day and only two to three trucks a month, according to the Bureau of Transportation statistics.
But one project in this tiny outpost is about to get a big-city upgrade.
The building that houses the border patrol is receiving $15 million from federal stimulus funds. And it's not just Whitetail. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is getting $420 million in stimulus funds to upgrade small border crossings, almost all of them along the Canadian border. Many of them don't have much more traffic than the border post at Whitetail.
CBP officials say the money is needed to improve security on the border with Canada, but the projects are viewed with suspicion along overcrowded border crossings on the U.S.-Mexico border.
In Laredo, Texas, more than 20,000 vehicles cross across the U.S.-Mexico border every day, but the city thus far hasn't been promised any money from the $787 billion stimulus that was signed into law almost three months ago.
"When you're seeing millions of dollars being invested when you're only crossing two or three cars, that's insane," fumed Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas.
Asked by ABC News why tens of millions of dollars are being spent on border crossings that are barely used, the senator responded: "Well, first of all, we're post 9-11 and border security is critically important. Southern borders are important, it gets all the attention. We've got 545 miles of border in Montana with Canada and these roads have to be secure. And one of the ways you secure them is you make an investment."
"These ports are 30 years old, some of them are 45 years old, some of them have asbestos problems," the senator said. "We have to for economic reasons and for security reasons make an investment in that infrastructure and it's long overdue."
Tester admitted that on some days, his area sees no cross-border traffic. But the senator known for his frugality -- he has boasted he spends $10 on haircuts, including tip -- says security and commerce are the key factors behind the investments.
"It's a 545-mile border. All it takes is one car with terrorists in them, and it can raise a whole lot of problems in this country," he said. "I'm a farmer, I'm not an expert in border security, but if they tell me they need to have this facility to secure the border, I say right on."
The five border posts in Montana that are getting money are "antiquated," Tester said. Improving them will not only increase security but also commerce, in his view.
"This is rural America…it's God's people...these are great people and if you don't live there, who cares? But if a bridge gets stopped in NYC, people get pretty excited about it. If you get a border crossing that is either shut down or boarded up, that commerce isn't going to happen anymore. And quite frankly, I think there's a lot of opportunity for commerce. We need to maximize the opportunity at this time and that's what the border patrol folks have decided to do and I support it," he argued.
The CBP believes what Tester says about security is correct.