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FARMINGTON — After years of petitioning by the Nageezi Chapter for reducing the speed limit along two sections of U.S. Highway 550, the New Mexico Department of Transportation decreased the speed limit this month.

For several years, residents and community leaders have appealed to the state transportation department and state officials to lower the speed limit due to the high number of accidents that have occurred on the section of road that travels through the chapter.

The state transportation department this month changed the speed limit from 70 to 55 mph on two sections of the highway.

The first section is between mile marker 128 and mile marker 126, a segment that has turnoffs for the school, health center, fire station, police substation and residential area in Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle.

The other section is between mile marker 116 near the Nageezi Chapter house and mile marker 112 near the Chaco Culture National Historical Park exit.

Paul Brasher, engineer for NMDOT District 5, said the department conducted a traffic study for the area last year and decided to lower the speed limit.

Personnel installed new speed limit signs along the highway this month.

"This has been a long battle," Nageezi Chapter President Ervin Chavez said in a telephone interview on Feb. 26.

Chavez remembered chapter members approving several resolutions that called for reducing the speed limit because they see motorists traveling at high speeds and numerous accidents and deaths have occurred on the highway.

He added that when he served on the San Juan County Commission in the 2000s, the commission backed a resolution to support lowering the speed limit.

Commissioners passed two resolutions in December 2010 that requested lowering the speed limit at certain locations on highway 550 and on New Mexico Highway 371, according to the county.

Other efforts include the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee of the Navajo Nation Council supporting the chapter's advocacy to the state transportation department in 2018.

"The best we can do is post it and hope that people abide by it. We're optimistic that it'll improve safety of the corridor," Chavez said about the new speed limit.

Within the last year, the chapter submitted a letter to State Rep. Anthony Allison, D-Fruitland, that called for the traffic study by NMDOT.

For Allison, the next question is how to enforce the new 55 mph speed limit when there is a shortage of law enforcement officers.

"How much is a human life worth?" Allison said.

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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