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South Dakota reservation's roads suffer from funding shortage

(KFYR)
Published: Aug. 1, 2019 at 10:15 PM CDT
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Indian reservations rely on federal funding to help fix and maintain their infrastructure, especially roadways. But the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe says the government's formula is skewed.

Drivers don't have to travel far on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal roads to find problems.

"We need to get these roads to where their safe and travelable, and the way the funding is coming now, it’s not working for a lot of the land based tribes," said Harold Frazier, Cheyenne River Tribal chairman.

Federal funding for the tribe's road infrastructure for 2019 was $2.2 million. That money is expected to cover construction and maintenance fees for 310 miles of road.

"It’s going to be in the millions of dollars. Maybe around $20 million minimum just to fix the damaged parts," said Frazier.

The most funded reservations include those in Oklahoma and Alaska, which get upward of $50 million. Those states receive more money because there are no set boundaries, meaning the whole states are counted as tribal land in federal calculations.

“If you're going 55, 60 mph and all of a sudden hit a three foot hole, something is going to happen,” said Wade Ward, roads committee chairman.

Culvert and road washouts are typical across the reservation, however, construction isn't.

"With all the flooding we had, it ate all the ditch out of here and clear back into the shoulder here in the road," said Ward.

With school beginning on in two weeks, the council is concerned with buses full of kids driving on these roads twice a day without having had the maintenance they need.

"The biggest concern is the safety of the kids, it’s sad that once after Labor Day were going to have two buses running twice a day with addition to the head start bus with 4 and 5-year-olds," said Frazier.

"Hopefully nothing bad does happen while its open," added Ward.

As for now, the tribe is depending on the Bureau of Indian Affairs and emergency relief to pay the small price of protecting many lives.

"A life, there is no amount of money that can replace one life. I don't care if there is one person who is traveling or tens of thousands, we have to keep our roads safe and maintained," said Frazier

Frazier says the tribe may have to sue for more money if funds aren’t allocated to fix necessary roads.