Smoother roads in the future? – The paper.

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Sometimes you just have to drive a road to understand how bad it can be. With that in mind, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg will surely get a feel for the roads New Mexicans traverse daily, much of which traverse tribal areas. His tour of New Mexico included a brief stop at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. On Wednesday. On November 16, the secretary was able to meet with members of the All Pueblo Council of Governors. The quick meeting was an important moment for Pueblos and other tribal leaders to share their concerns and needs regarding transportation in their communities.

This discussion follows the state’s recent public meeting requesting input on the I-40 corridor from Atrisco Vista in Albuquerque to the state line. This corridor alone runs through many miles of tribal lands, as do many of our roads in NM. Some of these older roads, which are still in daily use, were built by the Bureau of Indian Affairs before federal guidelines for construction existed. So who bears the cost of repair, maintenance, and upgrading to federal transportation standards? Most of the time, tribes are blamed for upkeep, but the money isn’t nearly enough and the process is competitive — meaning few projects are fully funded each year.

Santa Clara Governor J. Michael Chavarria made this statement directly to Secy. Buttigieg regarding meetings with the Pueblos and other tribal leaders. “It is very important to understand, Minister, that we are all unique. We are not all the same, we are all different. We all have different forms of political government. Madam Secretary, you must understand that this (meeting) also leaves plenty of time for culturally appropriate, relevant discussions. An interactive dialogue that leads to actual shared decision-making. This is very important. The public applauds Congress for passing the bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. While these laws have not fully addressed all of my Pueblo’s transportation infrastructure needs, they represent a significant increase in resources to meet the needs of our population. However, we encourage Congress to ensure that all programs are available to tribes, but 100 percent free. And I ask that you use the Minister’s authority to make this reimbursement irrelevant. This cost match represents a financial emergency for all of our tribes and nations.”

Acoma Pueblos representative for the meeting, Charles Riley, expanded on Chavarria’s comments. “Tribes face challenges in the application process. Tribes must compete with states, local governments, counties, and major metropolitan areas that have more resources, larger numbers of individuals, and in-house expertise. Many of our tribes here in the United States do not have the resources or expertise to apply for these grants. The requirement for adequate funding for competitive programs is another obstacle we face. Although these tribes are required to receive formula monies through the Federal Highway Administration’s Tribal Transportation Program, many tribes have insufficient formula monies to meet the road needs of their tribal transportation improvements and maintenance.”

He gave an example: A pueblo could maintain 311 miles of Bureau of Indian Affairs roads. This does not apply to tribal roads and other routes. The maintenance cost of those 311 miles is $900,000 annually. The Pueblo could get $100,000 from the Feds through the formula. Who pays the difference? In the end, the tribes hold the bill.

NMDOT Tribal Liaison Ron Shutiva shared his thoughts. “The tribal leaders have expressed their needs and concerns, particularly to the Formula Fund, on how the tribes receive their transportation funds. Also the needs they have in capacity building because many other pueblos do not have enough money to have a full time person to take care of transportation problems and concerns. So I’m glad the tribal leadership raised it. Our primary goal is for him to be here and hear firsthand from tribal leaders about the needs and concerns of our tribal lands.”

Buttigieg listened intently and took notes for over an hour. Some of the talks have included EV developments like those coming soon from nearby Santa Ana Pueblo, very specific road routes that require attention, and even toxic waste like that of WIPP crossing tribal areas. With this statement he concluded. “We take the relationship between nations very seriously. I can tell you that this is coming from the President and what you are doing is advice, what you are doing individually, what your respective public governments and other tribal governments are doing is work that we admire. As a mayor who maintained roads and made a living dealing with potholes and other maintenance issues before I came into this role, I’d like to be honest and say that I don’t know how you do with the formula dollars for maintaining the number of lane miles roads, that exist out here and [I] Take to heart the point that you are raising something that has been raised many times on the issue of formula funds. We will take with us all the insights, examples and experiences that you have shared with us.”

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