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DOT disburses $1.6 million in road safety funding for 2 Arizona tribal communities

Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

The Department of Transportation announced $82 million in road safety funding for 235 state, federal and tribal communities nationwide on Friday. These monies derive from the federal Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Among Arizona's six grantees, two of them are Indigenous, with the Hualapai Tribe receiving $160,000, “and the biggest is the Navajo Division of Transportation, which got $1.4 million to do a comprehensive plan for six communities within the reservation,” according to U.S. Department of Transportation Undersecretary Carlos Monje. He says Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has seen firsthand the danger those roads can cause while traveling across Indian Country.

“My boss, he comes back from these trips; this is a moral imperative for us,” Monje told KJZZ News. “It is a big and complicated and diverse country, but the tribal Nations really are the ones who need the most help when it comes to making the investments in their roads to make them safe.”

More than 29,000 residents live within the six Navajo communities where a defined action plan will be developed with support from this new federal funding to identify safety improvements, prevent future roadway fatalities and injuries as well as educate their population on safety principles. 

Fifty fatal injuries occurred from motor vehicle traffic crashes among these six communities on the Navajo Nation between 2017 and 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. That same area has an average annual fatality rate of 34.1 deaths per every 100,000 individuals. 

Unpaved roads pose risks for drivers and pedestrians alike. More than three-fourths of the Nation’s roadways are a mix of dirt, sand and clay.

“It's a big reservation. They have a lot of roads, including dirt roads,” Monje added. “And if we’re going to make sure that when people get in their cars, that they’re coming home to their families, you want to spend that money as often as you can to save lives.”

Gabriel Pietrorazio is a correspondent who reports on tribal natural resources for KJZZ.