Deadly road gets makeover on Pine Ridge Indian ReservationOglala Sioux Tribal officials recently decided to fund the regrading and repaving of six miles of the road through a $4 million bond issue.
By: Mary Garrigan , The Rapid City Journal
RAPID CITY (AP) — Roadside memorials that stand in silent testimony to six miles of a dangerous road on the Pine Ridge Reservation spoke loudly to the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
The Allen Road is a Bennett County route that runs through the tiny reservation town of Allen between Kyle and U.S. Highway 18.
With Martin to the east and Pine Ridge to the west, its 25 miles are some of the most dangerous on the Pine Ridge Reservation. In recent years, it has claimed the lives of Edgar Standing Bear and Charles Bettelyoun; of Jesse Vasquez and Carl Plenty Arrows, Jr.; of 8-month-old Briar Brown Bull and others.
Oglala Sioux Tribal officials recently decided to fund the regrading and repaving of six miles of the road through a $4 million bond issue, instead of waiting for county, state and federal governments to sort out longstanding legal and jurisdictional issues over of the unsafe road.
Donna Salomon, OST public information officer, has a personal reason to be thankful for the improvements. “I actually live in Allen. I drive it every day, and there’s been some times when I’ve been so scared on that road,” she said.
Her grandchildren ride a school bus from Allen to Bennett County School District in Martin on that same route, and she’s heard too many stories about close calls along the rutted, partially paved road.
“The first day they started, I was just so happy,” she said of the asphalt paving project that had the new road surface essentially finished on Sunday. Temperatures had to be above 40 degrees for laying asphalt and the weather cooperated, according to Dave Kelly, OST Transportation Department chief.
Contractors have worked since late October laying asphalt on the narrow, two-lane road that had fallen into disrepair over the years, contributing to motor vehicle accidents, especially during winter driving conditions.
The OST Transportation Department, however, is not involved in the project, Kelly said. The tribe’s transportation department has a direct funding agreement with the U.S. Transportation Department, but the original responsibility for the road fell to Bennett County. After years of legal limbo about road improvements, the tribe itself awarded a contract directly to a Minnesota asphalt company, using funds from the bond issue, which will be repaid from sales tax revenues, according to Gary Ruse, a financial consultant for OST.
Kelly is happy to see the road get the improvement it needs. Its original design and subsequent lack of attention led to severe rutting that contributed to the deaths, he said.
“It was the road itself. The initial construction was a 20-foot wide asphalt-top road with absolutely no shoulders. School buses that would pass each other actually clipped mirrors at times.”