WINDOW ROCK – Apache County Board of Supervisors Chairman Alton Shepherd says his county is ready to partner with Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren to have roads and bus routes maintained as both want.
On Thursday, Chairman Shepherd presented President Nygren with the long-awaited intergovernmental agreement between the Navajo Nation and the county.
“We put two-and-a-half years of work into this,” the Chairman said. “We have 800 miles of roads in total. This will help us move forward for the next 10 years.”
The IGA is part of the pledge both the President and Chairman Shepherd made to constituents to make road building and maintenance a priority, whether grading dirt roads, repairing paved roads and bridges, or building new roads by the Navajo Nation Department of Transportation.
Chairman Shepherd said the Apache County District 2 plan is called the “Step Up Road Program.” It’s a regionalized plan to improve accessibility for citizens living in the rural areas of the county district.
“The plans provide a safe, reliable, and efficient unified system of transportation services responsive to the needs of school children, families, and elders,” the Chairman wrote. “Rural communities need a safer, climate-resilient, and cost-effective rural road network with all-climate access to markets, health care, jobs, schools, and social services.”
President Nygren said he wants to have the IGA signed within a week to begin work while the weather is good.
“Now’s the time to stockpile supplies and gravel when the roads aren’t muddy,” the President said.
District 2 Field Operations Manager Julius Elwood told the President that one unusual issue with road maintenance in rural areas of the county is residents departing the area and roads that are not being used.
“The kids grow up and people move away for work,” he said. “The homes are boarded up, no one lives in them and people stop using the roads.”
Arizona law permits counties to provide road maintenance on existing school bus routes. In areas such as the Navajo Nation, transportation costs are some of the largest of any public school district budget.
This is in part because of the maintenance vehicles require after being driven on bad roads in need of continual and expensive maintenance, repair, and rebuilding.
The agreement came about through the work of the county, Navajo Department of Transportation, school district transportation departments, chapters, and the BIA roads department, Chairman Shepherd said.
As costs have gone up, the funding available to the county has gone down as a result of a population decrease, according to the last census. That negatively impacted funding for the county as a whole.
“Apache County lost 7.7% of its population and 9.1% in economic development,” Chairman Shepherd said.
That resulted in a loss of 10.3% of shared Arizona TPT, or Transportation Privilege Tax – a $735,133 loss to the county.
The county’s state HURF funding – Highway User Revenue Fund – lost $470,000.
Both decreases required the county to reduce the mileage of maintenance it provides from 405 miles to 383 miles.
“The negative impact on our funding has encouraged us to be more strategic, and innovative and find efficient ways to make certain that the funding losses don’t negatively impact our proposed IGA school bus routes,” Chairman Shepherd said. “This IGA with the Navajo Nation is one of those ways.
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