New Mexico receives $25M in federal funding for highway project near Shiprock

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — New Mexico will receive $25 million in federal funding for a transportation project on the Navajo Nation.

Congressional members from New Mexico announced the state was awarded funding through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grants, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation has been working to improve the portion of Highway 64 that runs west from Shiprock to the Arizona state line.

The road serves residents in chapters along its route and is used by visitors to reach designations such as the Four Corners Monument and Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

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Motorists travel eastbound to Shiprock on U.S. Highway 64 on Aug. 19, 2020.

The transportation department reported last year that a study determined the road and its four bridges are outdated and have multiple issues, such as poor pavement conditions, potholes and damaged railings.

NMDOT officials could not be reached for comment, but the project is listed on the department's website as being in the study and design phase.

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U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján and U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández welcomed the award, saying in a news release that it will help improve safety in the area.

"Safe roads and bridges are essential to connect our rural and tribal communities to critical health resources, job opportunities and schools. Highway 64 is an important transportation corridor that connects New Mexico to our neighboring states and provides mobility for many of our northwestern communities, especially Navajo," Leger Fernández said.

The area of Beclabito Chapter is seen from a portion of U.S. Highway 64 on Aug. 19, 2020.

A $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief and government spending bill approved in December 2020 appropriated $1 billion to the U.S. Department of Transportation for the RAISE grants.

The news release from Heinrich's office states that in April, the Biden administration remodeled an existing grant program as the RAISE grant program.

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One goal of the reform is to make funding more accessible for projects that can demonstrate improvements to racial and tribal equity, the release states.

"I am grateful to President Biden for making transportation infrastructure investment in tribal communities a reality and not just a talking point. This $25 million investment will mean better, safer roads for thousands of Shiprock residents and their families," Heinrich 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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