Transportation Needs Drastically Underfunded in Indian Country by $80 Billion

How broken is transportation in Indian country? $80 billion according to US-DOT

How broken is transportation in Indian country? $80 billion according to US-DOT

WASHINGTON — Transportation funding has been a problems for decades in Indian country was the message members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs heard on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at an oversight hearing on the state of tribal transportation.

“According to the Department of Transportation, there is an unmet transportation need in Indian country of nearly $80 billion if you count roads as well as maintenance and bridges and safety planning.  The BIA Road Maintenance Program has been chronically underfunded under the U.S. Department of the Interior,” testified Wes Martel, of the Joint Business Council of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.

Tribal leaders testified on the difficult transportation conditions on Indian lands and the budget constraints that endanger safety and hamper economic development.

“Funding for the Tribal Transportation Program, $450 million for 566 Federally recognized Indian tribes, has not increased since FY 2009, and in fact went down under MAP-21,” said Dana Buckles, tribal executive board member of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation.

Director Michael Black of the Bureau of Indian Affairs acknowledged the funding challenges, “The road maintenance budget has basically remained steady for almost 20 years – around $20 to $25 million a year,” Black said. “It is a challenge we have been facing for many years.”

Roads on Indian reservations are dire need of repair.

Roads on Indian reservations are dire need of repair.

“Safe roads and highways are critical to issues such as public safety and education.  On some Indian reservations, children spend two hours a day traveling to and from school on roads that are not adequate.  The dire conditions of these roads lead to delayed response time for law enforcement or medical assistance.  Investments in improved roads can speed up these response times and increase the chances of saving lives,” said Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D – Montana in his opening remarks to open the oversight hearing.  “Motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death for American Indians ages one through 34 and the third overall cause of death for all American Indians.  Many of these deaths are preventable.”

“Indian country lags far behind the rest of America in terms of access to vital services and markets. In rural Indian country, we dial 9-1-1 and then wait for hours, sometimes days, for law enforcement or emergency medical help to arrive,” testified President of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska Edward Thomas. “Unlike in the rest of America, ‘access’ in Indian country is often a matter of life or death. Our inadequate roads block our economic development and commerce, restrict essential services, and pose a serious obstacle to our citizens who simply want to get to and from work and home.”

Chairman Tester vowed to continue to delve into the issue of adequate funding for critical infrastructure in Indian Country, and asked the federal agencies to provide the Committee with detailed accounting of costs and expenditures to better understand this ongoing challenge.

Indian Country Unmet Transportation Needs Facts

  • Over 8 billion vehicle miles are traveled annually on the tribal roads, but more than 60  percent of those roads are unpaved and 27 percent of the bridges are deficient.
  • Adult motor vehicle-related death rates for American Indians and Alaska Natives are more than twice that of the general population. In the last 25 years, while the rate of fatal motor vehicle crashes has decline by two percent for the rest of the population, for Indian communities it has increased by 52.5 percent.
  • If you count roads as well as maintenance and bridges and safety planning, unmet transportation need in Indian country of nearly $80 billion.

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