Local leaders weigh in on transportation projects veto

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
The Shiprock Chapter was seeking funding to install traffic lights at an intersection on U.S. Highway 491 near Northern Navajo Medical Center.

FARMINGTON — Local leaders are expressing disappointment with the decision by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to veto nearly $50 million for road and street projects.

Lujan Grisham issued the veto on March 9, citing concern for state revenue projections due to the coronavirus and volatile crude oil prices.

"With this veto, I have added these monies back into our reserves, which helps counteract the potential impact of fluctuations in the oil market," the governor said in a press release.

Aztec, Bloomfield, Farmington, Lake Valley, Shiprock and San Juan County would have received $3 million under Senate Bill 232.

The Shiprock Chapter would have received $290,000 to install traffic lights at an intersection on U.S. Highway 491 near Northern Navajo Medical Center.

Vehicles wait to enter the southbound lane of U.S. Highway 491 on March 11 in Shiprock. A veto by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham eliminated funding for traffic lights the Shiprock Chapter wanted to place at this intersection near Northern Navajo Medical Center.

Chapter President Duane "Chili" Yazzie said the intersection provides access to the hospital's emergency room, homes, Mesa Elementary School, Shiprock Associated Schools Inc. and Diné College's north campus.

"There's no way to control the traffic there, especially during the rush hour in the morning and in the afternoon," he said.

The chapter would have received $60,000 to place approximately 230 street signs in the community, an initiative the Shiprock Planning Commission has been working on.

"It's disappointing because we've been working on these projects for a long time. We finally were getting some funding identified to get those projects done. We'll just be patient and get it when we get it," Yazzie said.

Farmington would have received $840,000 to plan, design, build and maintain streets and $350,000 to improve Foothills Drive.

City officials said in a statement that they understand the difficult decisions Lujan Grisham must make regarding the state budget.

Senate Bill 232 included $60,000 for the Shiprock Chapter to place street signs throughout the community. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on March 9.

"We are disappointed by the loss of these proposed funds that would have advanced our repair (and) scheduling of high priority needs. We will continue to prioritize road maintenance within our available resources," officials said.

The county would have received $750,000 for improvements to various county roads and $150,000 for a planning grant to complete a study for alternative routes for the Five Mile Bridge on County Road 4450.

County Manager Mike Stark said the bridge is rated by the New Mexico Department of Transportation as 2 out of 100 for sufficiency, due to challenges in maintaining access during high rainfall in Largo Wash.

"Although the bridge sees minimal daily traffic, it is important to the residents and oil field operators who use it. … San Juan County will continue to explore options to best serve the bridge users," Stark said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nlsmith@daily-times.com.

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