Construction and funding partners, Tribal Officials, and elected representatives cut the ribbon dedicating the reconstructed 17 Mile Road Tuesday morning. (Ernie Over photo)
(Wind River Reservation, Wyo.) – The dedication, cedaring and ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly reconstructed 17-Mile Road between Ethete and Arapahoe was hailed for its safety enhancements and government and community partnerships this morning.
In the heart of the Reservation under a clear blue sky with the snowcapped Wind River Range in the distance, several hundred people gathered under a huge tent at Givens Corner to hear speeches, observe a memorial moment of silence for those who died on the old road and special presentations. The event was followed by a feast.
“It is a good thing that this road is now safe for our Indian people and others,” said Eastern Shoshone Business Council Chairman Darwin St. Clair, Jr. “This project has brought together many partners that shows when we come together we get great things done.” St. Clair also noted the benefits of the road project to reservation employment. “It’s quite a smooth ride, I really like that!” he said.
Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Darrell O’Neal, Sr. echoed those comments, and he said “this road addressed safety considerations we’ve had over the years, it was a long time coming.” O’Neal said the new road “is the last chapter of addressing those safety concerns.”
While he didn’t speak at the event, nearly every speaker acknowledged the tireless work of “Big John” Smith, the Transportation Director of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes, in getting the project completed.
“John challenged us 15 years ago in Cheyenne to construct a good project here, he got this project started,” said Wyoming Transportation Department Chief Engineer Delbert McOmie, a Lander native. McOmie said the 17-Mile-Road was originally built in 1930 and was last updated in 1950. “This highway had twice the state average of vehicle and pedestrian fatalities and it had the highest fatality rate of any Indian Reservation highway in the country,” he said. “With traffic counts here approaching 2,000 vehicles a day, it was time for a modern road for modern transportation.”
In addition to acknowledging Smith, nearly every speaker hailed the partnerships that came together to get the $43-million, six-year-long project to completion. “We had unique partnerships,” McOmie said, noting the contributions from Fremont County, the State of Wyoming, The Federal Highway Administration-Central Federal Lands Division, the Tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation, and Wyoming Tourism. “This project is being looked at across the country as the model for government and community partnerships.”
Fremont County Commissioner Keja Whiteman said one of her goals in running for her office was to get something positive done on the Reservation. “We can use this project as an example, because there are other roads that need improvements,” she said. “I looked for ways the county government could work with the Tribes.”
Ricardo Suarez, the Division Engineer for the Central Federal Lands Highway Division of Denver called the collaboration on this road project “unbelievable” and said “it would be a shame if we don’t continue this partnership. It’s good government in action.”
McOmie said the project had generated an estimated $160 million impact on the Reservation and county economy through job creation and employee spending. Now that the road is completed, he also said it “would continue to be a good economic driver for the Reservation.” McOmie said the next big project on the horizon will be the reconstruction of the Blue Sky Highway between U.S. 287 north of Lander and Ethete. “I want to push this project so I can see it completed before I retire,” he said.
WYDOT’s District Engineer, Mrs. Shelby Carlson of Basin, said the project “was along time coming and its good to celebrate is being complete. Highways are critical to our way of life in Wyoming. This one has been a long journey.” Shelby said the project had been broken into six separate projects over the past six years, including the unanticipated replacement of a bridge washed out in the floods of 2010.
Howard Brown, III, the planning assistant for the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Division of Transportation, read the names of 23 individuals who had lost their lives in traffic or pedestrian crashes on the old road. A moment of silence was then observed for those victims.
Co-Masters of Ceremony were Cody Beers, WYDOT Public Relations Specialist and John Smith.
The colors were presented by the American Legion’s Richard Pogue Post 81, Gilbert Jarvis commander and the Arthur-Antelope-Brown Post 84, Martin Blackburn commander.
An Honor Song and a Flag Song were performed by the Eagle Drum of Arapahoe and the Fox Trail Singers of Fort Washakie. The Blessing Song at the cedaring was sung by the Eagle Drum.
The opening and road blessing prayers, respectfully, were by Nelson White and Leonard Moss, Sr. The Feast offering was said by Harrison Shoyo, Jr. and the closing prayer was by Arlen Shoyo.
State Representative Patrick Goggles of HD 33 spoke and letters were read by representatives from U.S. Sen. John Barrasso and U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi. Representing Governor Matt Mead were his representatives, Gary Collins from the Northern Arapaho and Ms. Sara Robinson from the Eastern Shoshone.
Carlson cited some statistics during her presentation on work done by Tribal crews on the project: She said they…
• Moved 305,000 cubic yards of dirt
• Installed 9,300 feet of drainage pipe
• Placed 158,000 tons of crushed base
• Installed 148,000 feet of right of fence and 47,000 feet of temporary fencing for cattle containment during construction
• Added 49 new cattle guards
• Installed double cell precast box culvert for the Mill Creek alignment under “live” water flow conditions, including precast wing walls and footings
• Installed a new sanitary water line to the Mill Creek Housing development.
Carlson also said the last phase of the project, the 9.7 mile long middle section, came in at a project cost of $17.6 million. The cost was $1.8 million per mile.
Most importantly, Carlson said the former 22-24 foot wide roadway was expanded to a 40 foot roadway, almost double the width. She said over 130 Tribal workers were employed on the project, earning nearly $4.5 million in wages for their families. Additionally she said $174,000 was paid to TERO (Tribal Rights Employment Office) in fees.
Carlson said the project used 44,000 tons of asphalt pavement placed by Western Wyoming Construction. Over 15,000 hours of flagging was done to maintain a safe work environment and to protect the traveling public. She said that roadway lighting was added at critical intersections.
Finally, she said an irrigation system along the route was installed, including 18,000 feet of irrigation pipe that was placed in just under 8 months, working through winter conditions. She said the entire west section of the project was completed in a 15 month time frame.
Photos by Ernie Over, click to enlarge, mouse over for captions.