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Progress towards Safer Streets and Roads for the Navajo Nation

One of the new programs created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is the Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) grant program, something we applauded at the time and subsequently, through our work in the Intersections Initiative, aided communities across the country to navigate funding opportunities The goal of SS4A funding is to help communities do the work to plan for safer roads. The League was honored to provide technical assistance in collaboration with Safe Routes Partnership and America Walks, with support from the CDC’s Active People, Healthy NationSM Initiative, to help organizations navigate federal funding opportunities. One of the groups the Intersections Initiative aided is the Navajo Nation Division of Transportation, who recently received a $1.44 million Safe Streets and Roads for All grant to fund the development of a new comprehensive safety action plan.

“Whether it’s a dangerous intersection or highway, or a need for better bus and bike lanes, no one can better pinpoint a community’s safety needs than the people who actually live and work there,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a press release about the grants. “In the past five years, the communities we are awarding these grants to have experienced nearly 14,000 roadway deaths. To help change that unacceptable reality, we are proud to deliver this needed funding to help them address their unique safety needs and save lives.” 

The Navajo Nation’s action plan will enable the community to identify safety improvements that would prevent roadway fatalities and injuries and offer educational opportunities on safety principles. Putting plans in place is an important step towards safer roads and many communities, especially smaller or historically underserved ones, don’t always have the funding available for planning.

This funding supplements the $20 million grant the Navajo Nation was awarded earlier this year under the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program. The RAISE program aims to invest in transportation projects that enhance the country’s infrastructure and promote sustainability, equity, and safety. 

According to the press release, “The reconstruction and improvement of Navajo Route 15 will help address some of the unique transportation challenges faced by the Navajo people, fostering a more connected and resilient community.”

A gravel road (Navajo Route 20) with a few free range horses grazing and walking along the side. The road is lined by red dirt and sagebrush.
“Horses on US 89T (Navajo Route 20) before paving.” Image courtesy of the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Other tribal areas receiving SS4A grants include: 

  • Ramah Navajo Chapter: Vision Zero is the community’s goal to reduce the number of severe crashes (fatalities and serious injuries) to zero. At its core, this goal is inspired by the belief that traffic collisions are preventable, and even one fatality is too many.
  • Hualapai Tribe: Complete an action plan for the Hualapai Reservation to identify and prioritize roadway safety projects. Currently, there is no action plan for the tribe to follow.
  • The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Oregon: Warm Springs and ODOT are committed to improving roadway safety by significantly reducing or eliminating roadway fatalities and serious injuries through the development and implementation of a Safety Action Plan focused on all roadway users. The Action Plan will consider the needs and safety of all transportation system users, with special attention to the needs of vulnerable users of the transportation system to ensure an equitable investment in the needs of this underserved community as well as safety over a wider geographic area.
  • Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes: Development of a comprehensive Safety Action Plan.
  • Wind River Inter-Tribal Council, Dept. of Transportation: Development of a comprehensive Safety Action Plan.
  • Muscogee (Creek) Nation: With a comprehensive view of transportation safety, the SS4A Action Plan better meets the values of the MCN in providing for both tribal members and all people who live within the Reservation boundaries.

Both the RAISE funding and the more recent SS4A grant can improve safety and prevent fatalities and serious injuries for road users on tribal land. Per the National Congress of American Indians, “The lack of sufficient transportation infrastructure throughout Indian Country hampers economic development opportunities for tribal nations and their citizens and increases risks for all motorists who traverse these roads.” Considering that federal funding is the main resource for many tribes to improve or maintain their road systems, this recent funding is a step in the right direction toward safer streets and roads for all.

Applications for the next round of SS4A grants are anticipated to open soon in February 2024. Stay tuned for updates from the League as more information becomes available!

Active People Healthy NationSM is a national initiative from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity (DNPAO), working to help 27 million Americans become more physically active by 2027. Learn more and sign up for their newsletter to stay informed.