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President Harvier Voices Concern on Funding for Roads, Bridges and Buildings in Indian Country

SRPMIC President Martin Harvier speaking about current issues on roadways in SRPMIC. Screenshot taken from live feed on the Natural Resources Committee hearing.

Tribal infrastructure is key in Indian Country, as more than 2,000 miles of road are in need of funding for construction and maintenance, according to the 2019 Tribal Transportation Facility Inventory.

Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community President Martin Harvier testified in the Subcommittee Hearing on Tribal Infrastructure on July 11 in Washington, D.C. The hearing also included testimony from Red Lake Nation of Minnesota Chairman Darrell G. Seki Sr. and LeRoy Gishi, chief of the Division of Transportation for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

His comments addressed the fact that Indian Country cannot thrive if infrastructure needs go unmet and construction backlogs linger. Currently, roads in Indian Country are going undermaintained.

Making sure tribes have the federal resources and support to maintain safe and functioning infrastructure is a key part of the federal trust responsibility. Modern and reliable infrastructure is also a matter of tribal sovereignty, safety and economic development.

Indian Country is always on the front lines when it comes to climate change, weather patterns and natural disasters. If infrastructure isn’t strong or maintained, Indian Country will continue to suffer, as transportation is key to economic development.

An infrastructure investment is tied to roads, bridges and building on tribal lands. Harvier gave an opening statement on tribal transportation and infrastructure. He described the location of the SRPMIC and the surrounding cities, three major freeways and its tremendous growth, with 400,000 vehicles that come through the Community daily and 200,000 vehicles that use some of the larger roadways (McKellips, McDowell and Country Club roads) inside the Community.

“This puts a strain on the public’s safety and public works agencies who are responsible for maintaining and keeping existing roadways safe for travel,” said Harvier. “As the Community continues to experience growth, it must also find ways [to obtain] additional resources to plan and build new roadways.”

The Federal Tribal Transportation Program is currently underfunded; on an annual basis, the SRPMIC receives $92,000 from the Bureau of Indian Affairs for road maintenance and is forced to supplement that funding by $1.3 million. For the Community’s five-year construction plan, the BIA will fund only 13 percent. Clearly there is not enough money to meet the basic needs of the current roads or the funding alone to support a robust 21st century transportation system.

Harvier said an increase in funds will help tribal transportation programs, and he also asked for additional funds to be set aside for highway safety programs. Visitors use the Community’s surface roads as an alternative route, and this cut-through traffic increases wear and tear on the roads and brings safety concerns for the residential areas on the Community.

Tribal law enforcement works with neighboring jurisdictions on safety issues including cut-through traffic, pedestrian walkways, and safety and increasing lighting on secondary roads.

The tribe does not have access to federal highway safety programs and funding to support these topics. President Harvier encouraged the committee to review and consider the recommendation put forward by the Tribal Transportation Safety Working Group to help improve vehicle and pedestrian safety on tribal lands.

President Harvier shared how recently a grant was awarded to the SRPMIC to help support the widening of Pima Road. “This will help with cut-through traffic and increase safety and expand opportunities for economic development,” said Harvier.

He added that the Community is experiencing a lot of cut-through traffic due to its location between three cities, and some individuals find it easier to use Community surface roads rather than using the freeways that also are within the Community.

President Harvier said SRPMIC’s current concern is maintaining its existing roads and finding funding for continued maintenance.

Red Lake Nation Chairman Seki also spoke about the crumbling of roadways in his community and how funding was not available and they were forced to borrow millions of dollars to rebuild roads. Seki asked for assistance in funding for roadways and infrastructure.

LeRoy Gishi added that infrastructure continues to be very important in Indian Country. There is a $105 million backlog of bridge construction and maintenance. Including location, material and square feet, a new 100-foot-long bridge can cost somewhere between $300,000 and $500,000.

In the SRPMIC, urban planning and trying to keep up with the neighboring cities has been difficult, and the Community is behind on this. Harvier said there are 52 miles of unpaved roads in the SRPMIC, and currently it would take 60 years to pave those 52 miles of road when you consider all the steps of grant applications, laws and the actual roadwork.