Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association

Support for full funding and fair formula for allocation of Indian Reservation Roads funds in new U.S highway bill


WHEREAS, the Great Plains (formerly Aberdeen Area) Tribal Chairman’s Association (GPTCA) is composed of the elected Chairs and Presidents of the 16 Sovereign Indian Tribes and Nations recognized by Treaties with the United States that are within the Great Plains Region of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; and


WHEREAS, the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association was formed to promote the common interests of the Sovereign Tribes and Nations and their members of the Great Plains Region which includes the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska; and


WHEREAS, Tribal Nations in the Great Plains have land bases that extend, from border to border, as much as 150 miles or more; and


WHEREAS, within those reservations, roads, streets and highways are a critical lifeline for Tribal citizens, members of the public and other rural communities, providing critical access to, among other things: health care facilities, dialysis services, schools, Tribal institutions, government agencies, businesses of all kinds, other families on the reservation and access to off-reservation locations; and


WHEREAS, roads are important for Great Plains Tribal Nations as an issue of safety:  tribal citizens need safe roads for bus routes for their children; for emergency vehicles, such as fire, police and ambulances; for economic development purposes, such as agriculture and as farm-to-market roads and energy development; for ordinary travel needs; and particularly Tribes in the Great Plains need safe roads during the winter when travel is generally hazardous; and


WHEREAS, extremely dangerous conditions for all are present when BIA or Tribal roads, especially in the winter, are poorly maintained or poorly constructed, or when roads have dangerous potholes, degraded surfaces and uneven roadways; and



WHEREAS, the U.S. Department of Transportation, acting through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), coupled with the Indian Reservation Roads (IRR) Program within the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) at the Department of Interior (DOI), play a major role in ensuring that Indian reservations obtain enough funds to construct and maintain quality public roads to serve the population that lives on the reservations; and


WHEREAS, the purpose of the IRR program is to provide safe and adequate transportation and public road access to and within Indian reservations, Indian lands, and communities for the Indians and Alaska Natives, visitors, recreational users, resource users, and others, while contributing to economic development, self-determination, and employment of Indians and Alaska Natives; and


WHEREAS, funds for the IRR Program have been included in the recent federal highway bills passed by Congress, including the last one, SAFETY-LU, (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient, Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users) passed in 2005, and now expired; and


WHEREAS, as authorized by the federal highway bills, regulations have been developed (sometimes through negotiated rulemaking with the Tribes) and implemented by the BIA that have created complicated formulas to distribute the IRR funds appropriated by Congress to eligible Tribes, encodified as Part 170 of Title 25 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR); and


WHEREAS, one of the most important parts of the formulas as developed is the IRR program roads inventory developed by each Tribe, which includes roads that are on the reservation or that serve the reservation; and


WHEREAS, the policies as established in 25 CFR Part 170 allow for incorporation of state, urban, county and other Federal routes into the official IRR inventory of each Tribe, even though the responsibility for constructing and maintaining those roads does not lie with the IRR Program;


WHEREAS, according to BIA statistics, as of October 2009 the IRR system consisted of approximately 33,000 miles of BIA and tribally owned public roads and 61,000 miles of state, county and local government public roads, whereas in October of 1993, the IRR system consisted of approximately 25,700 miles of BIA and tribally-owned public roads and 25,600 miles of state, county and local government public roads; and


WHEREAS, the “cost to construct” (CTC) and “vehicle miles traveled” (VMT) for roads that are primarily county, state or other Federal roads, and which are not normally considered BIA or Tribal roads, may, in certain circumstances, be used as a part of the formula for allocating IRR funds to the various Tribes, in accordance with Question 10 of Appendix C to Subpart C of 25 CFR Part 170 referenced above; and


WHEREAS, The consequence of the BIA’s interpretation and implementation of Question 10 as referenced above has permitted the IRR program to be focused away from the BIA and Tribal routes within each reservation, and instead be focused on state, county and local government public roads within, adjacent or leading to Indian reservations,   leaving the needs of roads serving primarily Native Americans severely under-funded, including the roads on Indian reservations located in the Great Plains, Rocky Mountain, Southwest, Northwest and Navajo BIA Regions,  and Tribes in other Regions with large land bases and with significant miles of roads; and


WHEREAS, 25 CFR Part 170 requires the Secretaries of the Interior and Transportation to establish an IRR Program Coordinating Committee (IRRPCC) to provide input and recommendations to the BIA and FHWA in developing IRR Program policies and procedures; and


WHEREAS, The IRRPC after review and deliberations has not reached a recommendation for implementation since 2006 of Question 10, as referenced above, and has asked the BIA and FHWA to develop a solution; and


WHEREAS, after a series of meetings in 2010 between BIA officials and all Indian tribes affected by the issue described above, the BIA has proposed that Question 10 be interpreted for the purpose of funding of roads under the IRR program by utilizing the road’s “functional classification” as the determining factor; which the BIA says will “closely align the IRR Program with the FHWA Federal-Aid classification.”; and


WHEREAS, it is unclear how much this new interpretation of Question 10 will affect the distribution of IRR funds; and


WHEREAS, legislation that will reauthorize the current version of the transportation funding law (SAFETY-LU) will need to be enacted in the 112th Congress, and should include a set-aside for the IRR Program; and


WHEREAS, the legislation to be enacted in the 112th Congress should include full funding for all roads that exist in Indian country and which primarily serve Native Americans within the various reservations.


NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association (GPTCA) supports the continued efforts of the BIA to arrive at a formula that is fair to all Tribes with large land bases and significant miles of roads that receive no other state or federal funding other than through the IRR Program, in accordance with its previously passed Resolution No. 20-11-17-09, and that provides adequate mechanisms for ensuring compliance with the exceptions contained in Question 10; and


NOW THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the GPTCA does hereby support the continued inclusion of, and full funding for, the IRR Program in any new Federal highway legislation; and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the GPTCA does hereby support language in any new legislation regarding the IRR program that will do the following things:


 1) assures that any “relative needs distribution formula”, that is adopted under the IRR Program by the BIA through regulations, such as existed prior to July 19, 2004,  provides funding that to the maximum extent possible benefits BIA and Tribal Roads funded solely through the IRR Program, in fulfillment of purposes of the IRR Program;


2) assures safe roads for members of the public and Tribal and rural communities on and near the reservations by providing a floor or a minimum amount of funding from the IRR Program of not less than 80% that must be directed to BIA and Tribal roads funded solely through the IRR Program, similar to the IRR bridge program;


3) provides that information submitted to the BIA under the IRR Program regulations by the Tribes or other government entities be subject to verification and that provides for sanctions for providing false or inaccurate information; and


4) provides that roads on Tribal IRR road inventories not yet constructed be allowed to remain on the Tribal inventory only so long as the Tribe provides adequate justification for keeping the proposed road on the inventory.


BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that this resolution shall remain the policy of the GPTCA until otherwise modified or rescinded, or until the policy objectives of this resolution are accomplished.




This resolution was enacted at a special called meeting of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association held at the Best Western Ramkota, Rapid City, SD on Dec. 2, 2010, in which official action was taken with a vote of 8 Tribal Chairman voting in favor and 0 voting against.



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