'It'll be an ultimate tribute to him.' Bill would ask state to name highway after John Pinto

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
This stretch of U.S. Highway 491 south of Shiprock is pictured on May 23, 2017.

FARMINGTON — A bill assigned to the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee is requesting Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham name U.S. Highway 491 in honor of the late state Sen. John Pinto.

In the time that followed Pinto's death in May, many have acknowledged him as being instrumental in advocating for and securing money to expand the highway from two to four lanes in San Juan and McKinley counties.

Pinto said he worked for more than 20 years to complete the project when it was announced in March 2014 that funding was obtained to increase the remaining portion of the highway, according to The Daily Times archives.

Former Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, left, introduces state Sen. John Pinto on March 25, 2014 in Naschitti before Gov. Susana Martinez announced new funding that will allow the state to complete the expansion of U.S. Highway 491 from two-lane to four-lane.

"He had a strong passion for that highway," said Delegate Mark Freeland, who is sponsoring the bill, in an Aug. 9 telephone interview.

Such a designation will honor and memorialize Pinto's legacy, Freeland said.

"It'll be an ultimate tribute to him. I hope the state gives it some consideration," he said.

The bill is assigned to the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee, where final authority rests.

According to the New Mexico Department of Transportation, the state transportation commission names roads and the commission considers written requests for such action when it is intended as a memorial to an event, person, person of historical significance, or to honor a person of national respect.

U.S. Highway 491 stretches approximately 194 miles from Monticello, Utah to Gallup.

This is not the first time a council delegate is pursuing to name a highway after an important figure to the Navajo people.

Former Delegate Leonard Tsosie successfully championed a bill in May 2017 that requested the state to designate Highway 491 as Chief Manuelito Highway.

The state transportation commission granted the request and named the entire portion of the highway after the renowned Navajo leader in July 2017, according to the state department of transportation.

There has been previous action to name highways in New Mexico after Pinto, according to the transportation department.

The portion of N.M. Highway 264 from Yah-ta-hey to the New Mexico-Arizona state line was designated the Sen. John Pinto Highway in October 1992.

The name remained in place until May 1998 when it was renamed the Navajo Code Talkers Highway. That change became official by the New Mexico Legislature in 2003.

The same year, state lawmakers did not approve legislation to place Pinto's name on Highway 491.

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

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