Talon News - Good Local News

By Jacque Ritchie
TALON 

LOCALS TAKE ON NMDOT

LOCALS TAKE ON STATE REGARDING SAFETY

 

November 2, 2018

Nageezi Community Activist Etta Arviso and Chapter President Ervin Chavez fight to make life-saving changes along Hwy. 550

LOCALS TAKE ON STATE REGARDING SAFETY

By Jacque Ritchie TALON

Travelers on U.S. Hwy. 550 from Albuquerque to the Colorado border typically enjoy the vast and wild landscape filled with winding arroyos snaking through stunning red rock vistas. As one drives along however, it is hard not to be taken aback by the number of 'descansos' that stud the sides of the road. Descansos are the roadside memorials that families place to mark the spot where traffic accidents have claimed the lives of loved ones and are a somber reminder of how treacherous the scenic roadway can be.

Formerly a partially paved two-lane known as Nm Hwy. 44, '550' has long been considered a 'killing zone.' According to a 2017 Associated Press report Hwy 550 continues to have a high fatality rate even after the state finished the four lane reconstruction in 2001. NMDOT reports and independent experts agree that the highway was designed for a maximum 65 mph speed limit. Brian Estochen state traffic and safety engineer for the state of Minnesota wieghed in saying the current 70mph speed limit and the narrow or lack of a median are a "recipe for disaster."

Recently, a small but determined band of Nageezi Chapter members are taking on NMDOT in an effort to make life-saving changes along Hwy. 550 south of Bloomfield. Led by Chapter President and candidate for SJC Commission, Ervin Chavez, chapter members drafted legislation to reduce the speed limit along specific sections of Hwy 550 due to serious and long-standing safety issues. "Lives are being lost on that road," Chavez said in a recent interview with TALON.

The September 28, 2018 legislation packet 0324-18 includes Resolution #NC 18-043 that repectfully requests "due to concernces of the Nageezi residents" NMDOT reduce the speed limit on U.S. Hwy. 550 between mile markers 126 to 128 and 112 to 116 from 70 mph to 55 mph. The legislation is sponsored by Johnathan Hale the chairman Navajo Nation Council's Health, Education and Human Services Committee. The legslation packet was presented to the Navajo Nation Council (NNC) on October 31 in Window Rock, Arizona and it passed unanimously.

Chavez explained, "You know, this battle with the state of New Mexico to reduce the speed limit began long ago, even before the four lane reconstruction...what would happen, is that we would express our concern...and they would send the state highway department, and then they would say that everybody was doing the posted speed limit, so there was nothing they could do. And nothing would get done...I don't know where they (NMHD) were sitting at but from what I see people are going 80-85 miles on hour easy." Chavez said, "People from the tri-city area use this road to go to Albuquerque but they don't think anybody lives between Farmington and Albuquerque. They just drive like mad." Chavez is hopeful that once the legislation gets the support of the NNC, it will move forward.

"We need some slow down signs through the (Nageezi) community, we have schools, a clinic, a community center, there's a post office and a senior center," said eastern Navajo spokesperson Etta Arviso. "Born and raised at Nageezi" Arviso is a mother and grandmother. She stated that the traffic along Hwy. 550 has always been a concern with many blind corners and line-of-sight restricting hills to contend with, "The traffic has accumulaterd since all this drilling and fracking started and there has been no safety...we have school buses here with children and senior citizens going to the center and the people trying to get their mail...there is a lot of foot traffic. "

NMDOT reports that vehicle miles on NM highways have indeed seen a 11 percent increase increase from 2013-2016 and 23 percent increase from 2000. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the 175 mile stretch of Hwy. 550 between Albuquerque and Bloomfield is arguably considered the deadliest in the state.

With a population of 356,890 people (2016) the Navajo Nation encompasses 27,413 square miles stretching from western New Mexico to well into Arizona and southeastern Utah. According to resolution #NC 18-043 the Nageezi Chapter and the surrounding communities are home to around 2500 to 3000 people, making it one of the largest base chapters in the Eastern Agency of the Navajo Nation. Arviso is urging all concerned residents to voice their opinion about the proposed highway legislation saying, "Everybody uses 550 Hwy so everybody has the right to comment."

The issue is a very personal one for Arviso as five members of her extended family including two adults Lorraine and Nellie Jacquez and three children were killed by a suspected drunk driver in a 2014 hit and run near Nageezi. Aztec was similarily devastated by the 2017 alcohol-related crash that claimed the lives of Aztec residents, Melissa and Jimmie Crawford and their two children ages 2, and 4 while on their way to Albuquerque to watch older siblings play in a soccer match.

According to NMDOT statistics drunk drivers are not the only cause for crashes along the highway citing several fatalities were caused by speeding. driver fatigue, weather and vehicles veering into oncoming traffic. Semi-trucks veering across the road were the reported cause of the 2014 crash that killed the Miller family including two young children returning home to Texas after a vacation.

For Arviso these losses sturdy her resolve for the beaucratic fight ahead, likening it to climbing a mountain saying, "Well, it's not too hard to climb if you do it with prayers...When you are working for the seniors and the children, that is the reason it is important. We were always taught to try to prepare things for the children and the grandchildren, so this it what we do." When asked if she would consider running for tribal or public office Arviso said, "Hell no! I am just a member of the community...but I'm not going to shut-up until they do it!"

E-mail comments to [email protected] or send written comments on Resolution #NC 18-043 to:

Executive Director

Office of Legislative Services

P.O. Box 3390

Window Rock, AZ 86515

(928)871-7590

 

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