Highway had 22 fatalities between 1999 and 2011

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FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation has received a federal grant to assist its transportation division in identifying areas of improvement for Navajo Route 36.

The highway is approximately 29 miles long and runs between N.M. Highway 371 and U.S. Highway 491 between Farmington and Shiprock.

The road provides access to several chapters, residences, farms and schools, in addition to the Four Corners Power Plant and the Northern Edge Casino.

The Navajo Division of Transportation will use the $72,000 grant to begin the preliminary design for replacing sections of the road, placing additional signage and identifying areas in need of pothole repairs.

The grant comes from the Federal Highway Administration's Tribal Transportation Program Safety Fund, which is designated to help tribes improve highway safety and safety planning.

"These funds will assist tribal communities in building a system that improves safety for the traveling public and provides residents increased access to greater long-term economic opportunity," U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a press release.

A road safety audit completed in August 2013 by the New Mexico Department of Transportation stated the road has been labeled as "the most unsafe roadway" in the state.

The audit stated there were 321 crashes on the highway from 1999 to 2011 with 22 fatalities within that period.

It also included recommendations for improving the road, including the addition of rumble strips, signage, pavement reconstruction, guard rails and turning lanes.

Carl Slater, senior public information officer for the Navajo Division of Transportation, said the road is not scheduled to receive funding for maintenance or road construction from the Tribal Transportation Improvement Program.

Tribal officials thought if they applied for the funds, it might leverage a grant award with either the fuel excise tax or road fund dollars, state appropriation or another source, Slater said.

"We are still strategizing how to best access more funds and provide the safest possible driving experience for users of (Navajo Route 36)," Slater said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

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