State, federal agencies fall short on reservation road funding assistance

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CHEYENNE RIVER SIOUX RESERVATION - Tours of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation revealed numerous safety issues on major highways and secondary roads.

With a $2.2 million budget from the National Highway Fund, the tribe has nowhere near the money it needs to maintain and fix crucial roads.

With roads and culverts being washed away by seasonal flooding, the Cheyenne River Reservation is struggling to keep up with road repairs.

"It would be in the millions of dollars, maybe around $20 million just to fix the damaged parts. And we don’t have that kind of money on our reservation," said Harold Frazier, Cheyenne River Tribal chairman.

In 2019, the Tribal Transportation Program funded the reservation only $2.2 million.

From there, the tribe requested money from the Emergency Relief Program. They put all construction on hold while waiting for the funds that were being processed.

"Back in May, they instructed our transportation Director, 'Don’t' do any work until it is authorized.' So' we sat back and around the Fourth of July we started pressuring and calling again and still not getting any results," said Frazier.

South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds stepped in, which prompted the response from the National Highway Program.

"We received an email from them saying, 'Once again, do not work on these roads until we authorize it,'" said Frazier.

A big concern for Frazier are culvert washouts, which are similar to the one that took the life of two people on Standing Rock Reservation.

"Forty-feet wide, and 40-50 feet deep, and it’s just sitting there and no one has worked on it. And, it is a BIA road, but they have never responded to it," said Frazier.

In some cases, the tribe has taken it upon themselves to repair BIA roads in hopes of being refunded.

However, Frazier says the only repairs the BIA has made to the reservation include marking potholes with stakes and re-routing roads around the washouts.

"We need to get these roads to where they're safe and travelable," said Frazier.

Councilmen say closing roads isn't an option, as alternative routes would add an additional two hours to commutes.

"Hopefully nothing bad will happen while it is open," said Wade Ward, Roads Committee chairman.

However, the tribe is unsure of what it’s going to take in order for their concerns to be taken seriously.

"I hope it doesn’t take the lives of some children on a bus, or any life for that fact," said Ward.

Because roads are replaceable, and lives are not.

"One life, there is no amount of money worth one life. I don’t care if one person travels or tens of thousands, we have to keep our roads safe and maintained well," said Frazier.

School begins later this month, then bus drivers will have to navigate these road hazards twice a day.