Published on May 24, 2022 at 2:59 p.m.
The Gila River Indian community will receive nearly $1 million to replace old and damaged road signs in the community, which tribal leaders say will improve the safety of community members who drive the roads every day. and those who visit tribal lands.
The funding will be used to replace street signs in four districts on tribal land. The Gila River Indian Community maintains over 300 miles of U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) roads that are used by tribal members, East Valley residents, and drivers commuting between Phoenix and Tucson.
While federal highway funding was used to replace and upgrade approximately $200,000 of outdated or missing signage in three of the community’s seven districts, the tribe says the signage project has stalled due to lack of funding.
The allocation of $915,000 in the federal budget will allow for the completion of the sign safety project in four districts, the tribe said in a news release. Funding was included in the budget at the request of US Representative Tom O’Halleran.
“It is no exaggeration to say that this funding will reduce the number of motor vehicle accidents in the community,” said Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis. “This funding will save lives. It’s critically important to the community, our families and everyone who drives the Gila River lands.”
The money will be used to purchase and install new signage throughout the community. The signs eventually become unsuitable for the road due to normal wear and tear, sometimes vandalism, but in the end, Lewis said many of the ones that are replaced are very old.
“The safety of these drivers is compromised due to the vast majority of these road signs being missing or damaged,” he said.
Lewis said when signs fade or become damaged, tribes often cannot replace them quickly. Unlike cities or urban municipalities that have access to funding to have their street signs replaced quickly, he said tribes often have to wait for federal funding to do so.
“We’re making sure that once we get funding from the federal government, we can put these signs up as soon as possible,” he said.
Lewis added that he hopes the success of the Gila River Indian community in obtaining this type of funding can serve as a model for other tribes in Arizona.
“The need is there,” he said, and he hopes that once they put the funding to good use, tribes can use their work as an example.
Lewis said the Gila River Indian Community Department of Transportation tracks traffic accidents within the community. Data from 2008 to 2012 shows that there were over 3,000 total crashes reported in the community. Of these, 82 were fatal.
“It brings us back to the importance and critical nature of this sign safety upgrade project,” he said. “This project will save lives within our community for members and non-members traveling through the community.”
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