Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Sun, Sept. 20

Hopi, Navajo County partner to pave Route 60

KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. - In a move aimed at improving the quality of life for members of the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribal Council approved partnering with Navajo County to seek a federal grant to pave the Low Mountain Road.

Hopi BIA Route 60 North, as the road is formally known, is a major traffic artery for residents, schools, emergency vehicles and commercial vendors. However, the 13.7-mile unimproved stretch is a washboard road filled with potholes that becomes even more treacherous in inclement weather.

"This is a unique type of situation. It's history in the making," said Phillip R. Quochytewa Sr., tribal council presiding officer, noting that the Hopi Tribe and the Navajo Nation are major stakeholders in the project, along with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Navajo County.

The grant application seeks an estimated $20-22 million for work on the road located on Hopi land in Navajo County near Polacca. It would connect State Route 264 with the communities of Low Mountain, Whippoorwill, Pinon and the Chinle area. The route is the most direct path from Flagstaff, Winslow and Show Low to residential communities and other tribal destinations.

"Without the construction of a paved roadway the Hopi and Navajo Tribes will continue to be significantly hampered in their ability to provide a safe and reliable access route and remain stagnant economically," according to the grant application.

While award of the grant is not yet certain, Tiffany S. Ashworth, grants administrator for Navajo County says the project has a lot of positives going for it.

"We are the only application that is on tribal land [and] we're improving the lives of people on both reservations," she said.

She noted that as bad as the road is, it is well-used and can't simply be shut down.

"The roadway is a major corridor," Ashworth said. "With the development of the Northland Pioneer College [there are] a large number of Navajo students that travel through that roadway to attend college. If it is impassible, they have to drive over 100 miles to get to the school (on an alternative route). It's the same for students that attend Hopi Jr./Sr. High School ... The kids spend 45 minutes to an hour just to [get to school.]"

And in bad weather, the road can become impassable.

"You're talking about ... a kid who is walking in ankle-high mud ... from a bus waiting to be rescued," she said. "In the 21st century, why should a child have to endure such humiliation? There is already a long time they are spending on the road [just] to get to school. It's too bumpy to do homework, too bumpy to rest."

The condition of the road also dissuades other schools from sending teams to compete in athletics and means a loss of class time for students because it takes so long to get to and from school.

Ashworth noted that there was some urgency in filing the application; the deadline was Sept. 15. The funding is authorized under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, which is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

All told, the highly competitive grant program will award $1.5 billion for surface transportation infrastructure with national or regional significance. All projects must be completed by Feb. 17, 2012.

The Hopi Tribe identified the need for this project years ago and began the majority of environmental and design studies before the grant funding was announced. The tribe already has a contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs for $852,616, which will be used to complete the pre-construction work, including planning and design for the road.

According to the grant application, key benefits a new road will provide include a safe route for students between the Low Mountain, Pinon, Whippoorwill communities and the Polacca, Hano, and Keams Canyon communities; critically needed access to the Hopi Healthcare Center, Flagstaff Medical Center, Winslow Memorial Hospital, and Summit Healthcare Regional Medical Center in Show Low; decreased response times of law enforcement officials between communities; creation of short-term, high-wage construction jobs; and creation of long-term economic opportunities and venues along the corridor.

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