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Shondiin Silversmith
AZ Mirror

The Gila River Indian Community will get nearly $1 million to replace old and damaged traffic signs through the community, which tribal leaders say will improve safety for community members who drive the roads every day and those who visit tribal lands.

The funding will be used to replace traffic signs in four districts on tribal land. The Gila River Indian Community maintains more than 300 miles of U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) roads that are used by tribal citizens, East Valley residents and drivers commuting between Phoenix and Tucson.

While federal highway funding was utilized to replace and upgrade about $200,000 in outdated or missing signage in three of the community’s seven districts, the tribe says the signage project stalled for lack of funding.

The $915,000 earmark in the federal budget will allow for the completion of the signage safety project in four districts, the tribe said in a press release. The funding was included in the budget at the request of U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran.

“It is no exaggeration to say that this funding will decrease the number of motor vehicle accidents in the community,” Gila River Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis said. “This funding will save lives. This is critically important to the community, our families, and everyone who drives on Gila River lands.”

The money will be used to purchase and install the new traffic signs throughout the community. The signs end up unfit for the road because of normal wear and tear, sometimes vandalism, but in the end, Lewis said many of the ones being replaced are very old.

“The safety of those drivers is compromised due to the vast majority of those roadway signs that are either missing or damaged,” he said.

Lewis said when the signs get faded or damaged, tribes often can’t replace them in a quick manner. Unlike cities or urban municipalities who have access to funding to get their road signs replaced quickly, he said that tribes often have to wait for federal funding to do it.

“We’re making sure that, once we get the funding from the federal government, we’ll be able to get these signs up as soon as possible,” he said.

Lewis added that he hopes the Gila River Indian Community’s success in getting 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 use tribes will be able to 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 within the community. Of those, 82 were fatal.

“This goes back to the importance and critical nature of this sign safety upgrade project,” he said. “This project is going to save lives within our community for both members and non-members that travel through the community.”

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This article was originally published in the AZ Mirror