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North Dakota tribes receive $19.5 million to improve road safety

The Standing Rock and Fort Berthold reservations received the federal funds to repair and upgrade roadways.

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FARGO — The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded $19.5 million to the North Dakota Department of Transportation to be used to support the Tribal Safety Project.

The project will include the installation of roundabouts, turn lanes, lighting and rumble strips to improve safety on the Standing Rock and Fort Berthold Indian reservations after problematic areas were identified in a 2017 Roadway Safety Review.

The money comes from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant program in conjunction with the Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success initiative, according to a press release issued by state legislators.

Standing Rock received $762,500 to go toward a total project cost of $1.5 million with the rest of the $19.5 million going to the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, said Janet Alkire, chairwoman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

“I’m excited that our North Dakota congressional delegation has recognized the public safety needs of both our tribes and hope that they will see the dire need to help funny repairs of the deadly roads on Standing Rock,” Alkire said.

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Mark Fox, chairman of the MHA Nation, said the funding will be put to good use.

"Public safety is always a priority. This funding will help ease some of the burden that is put on our roads and existing infrastructure every day from the oil and gas industry," Fox said.

Alkire said Standing Rock offers a "vast tourism industry, rich in Native American history and culture, but unfortunately our road network does not match the beauty and can be considered by many as a deterrent."

With President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill, Alkire is hopeful Standing Rock will continue to receive funding for their “long-overdue projects to not only their roads, but to the bridges and culverts, as well."

In 2019, accidents involving culverts led to two deaths and other injuries, and repairs had been waiting for seven years prior to those incidents, Alkire said.

“It is this type of under-funding that leads to highway fatalities,” she said, adding that on the day she got the news of the funding, she met with state tribal and state relations representatives to request further funding to assist the tribe with grant-matching requirements.

Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., along with Rep. Kelly Armstrong, all Republicans from North Dakota, wrote Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg in a letter dated March 23 asking for support so that the funds could go to improve safety for pedestrians and vehicles traveling in busy areas near schools, workplaces and homes.

“This construction project provides direct benefits to two underserved areas and addresses disparities in rural transportation infrastructure,” the letter stated.

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“North Dakota’s economy has grown significantly over the past decade, which has placed additional strain on our state’s infrastructure, including the State Highway System. While the state has made tremendous efforts to meet these ever-increasing needs, additional federal funding is needed to help ensure the safe and efficient transportation of goods and people,” the letter stated.

Attempts to contact the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation were unsuccessful.

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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