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Bingaman bill improves Navajo roads – helps kids get to school

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman recently introduced a measure to renew a program that aims to improve the safety of roads that serve the Navajo Nation and are used as school bus routes. Sen. Tom Udall is a cosponsor of the bill.

The condition of roads on the Navajo Nation has long been a problem. According to the BIA, of the 9,700 miles of public roads that serve the Navajo Nation, only about one-third are paved. The remaining 6,500 miles are dirt. Nearly all of these roads are used to transport Navajo children to and from school.

Bingaman’s “Indian School Bus Route Safety Reauthorization Act of 2009” would reauthorize the Indian School Bus Route program and provide $12 million to counties over six years. That funding would continue to be split equally among the three states covered by portions of the Navajo Nation. New Mexico would receive $4 million over the six years to be shared between McKinley and San Juan Counties. From 1998 – 2009 these counties shared about $6 million through the program, which will expire at the end of September.

“This bill continues an important federal program begun that addresses a unique problem with the roads in and around the nation’s single largest Indian reservation and the neighboring counties. Through this program, Navajo children who had been prevented from getting to school by roads that were often impassable are now traveling safely to and from their schools,” Bingaman said. “Because of the unusual nature of this situation, I believe it must continue to be addressed at the federal level.”

“There are so many Navajo Nation roads that are unpaved, dangerous and inaccessible for school bus travel, especially in bad weather,” said Udall. “This legislation would help Navajo children get to school safely.”

Counties are required to use the funding for improvement and maintenance of roads located within – or that lead to – the reservation, that are on a state or county maintenance system, and that serve as school bus routes.