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17 Mile

Submitted by rebecca on October 23, 2013 – 2:18 pmNo Comment

More than 200 people gathered on a bright and shiny Oct. 22 to dedicate and bless a reconstructed 17 Mile Road on the Wind River Reservation.

17 Mile Road is also known as Fremont County Road 334. It links the reservation, its people, its schools and its tribal governments to Riverton and points beyond. It was originally built in about 1930 and was last updated in 1950.

Gathered under a circus-size tent, tribal members, county, state and federal government workers, and media celebrated the success of the 17 Mile Road Partnership Project, which culminates 15 years of highway and bridge improvements on the Wind River Reservation’s busiest highway.

“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, and that shows when we come together we get great things done. It’s quite a smooth ride. I really like that!”

Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Darrell O’Neal, Sr., added “this road project addressed safety concerns we’ve had over the years. This project was a long time coming and is the last chapter of addressing the safety concerns (on 17 Mile Road).

Clearly it was a day of storytelling and thanks to Big John Smith, transportation director of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, and his tribal transportation staff, including Howard Brown III and others.

“John challenged us 15 years ago in Cheyenne to construct a good project here. He started this project,” said Wyoming Department of Transportation Chief Engineer Delbert McOmie of Lander, who is a Lander native. “This highway had twice the state average of vehicle and pedestrian fatalities, and it had the highest pedestrian fatality rate of any Indian Reservation highway in the country. With traffic counts here approaching 2,000 vehicles a day, it was time for a modern road for modern transportation.”

Part of the ceremony included honoring tribal members who have been lost in 17 Mile Road traffic crashes through the years.

Reconstructing 17 Mile Road — probably closer to 25 miles in length between Wyoming 789 on the outskirts of Riverton and Wyoming 132 (Blue Sky Highway) near Ethete – was a $43 million project that lasted over six different construction seasons and involved four separate projects.

The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes funded completion of the 17 Mile Road Partnership Project with a federal TIGER III grant in November 2011. The $8.23 million grant funded the roadway improvements from the Little Wind River bridge at the east end of the project to Coolidge Canal at the west end of the project. Funding also came from Fremont County, Wyoming Division of Tourism, and federal funding through the Wyoming Department of Transportation and the Indian Reservation Roads program.

The final project was built nearly entirely by tribal workers.

Another unique part of this project involved the many different partnerships to make it happen. Financial and manpower contributions came from Fremont County, the State of Wyoming, Federal Highway Administration-Central Federal Lands Division, the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, and Wyoming Tourism. “This project is being viewed across the country as the model for government and community partnerships,” McOmie said.

Central Federal Lands Division Engineer Ricardo Suarez of Denver delivered the keynote address, saying “it would be a shame if we don’t continue this partnership. It is good government in action, and this project has been so unbelievable in a great way.”

Big John Smith said prior to being built, 17 Mile Road was historically known as one of the most dangerous roadways in Wyoming. The roadway’s average fatality rate is twice the national average, and over the past 10 years, Smith said 17 Mile Road has had “numerous rollovers, car crashes and encounters with pedestrians and bicycles. This was due to the various safety issues of the roadway, including its narrow width and the absence of roadway shoulders and safety zones, and limited sight distance. As part of this project, a hazardous irrigation ditch in the right-of-way was also piped.”

“This is the most important road on the Wind River Reservation,” Smith said.

Rebuilding 17 Mile Road has generated an estimated $160 million impact on the Wind River Reservation since its start. It has employed hundreds of reservation workers, promoted tribal employment through the Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO), and improved safety.

McOmie said the next big project on the reservation is being planned for Blue Sky Highway (Wyoming 132) between U.S. 287 and Ethete.

“The 17 Mile Road project was a long-time coming and it’s good to celebrate it being complete,” said District 5 Engineer Shelby Carlson of Basin. “Highways are critical to our way of life in Wyoming. This one has been a long journey.”

Carlson listed significant project information as part of her speech about tribal workers efforts on the final 15-month-long, $17.6 million ($1.8 million per mile) project, including:

  • Building a 40-foot roadway, nearly double the width of the old 22-24-foot road
  • Employing 130 tribal workers, earning nearly $4.5 million in wages for their families
  • Paying $174,000 in TERO fees for tribal employment training
  • Paving 44,000 tons of asphalt pavement
  • Flagging more than 15,000 hours to ensure a safe work environment for workers and the traveling public
  • Moving 305,000 cubic yards of dirt
  • Burying more than 18,000 of irrigation pipe and improving an aging irrigation system, which eliminated an unsafe open ditch that followed the old road
  • Installing 9,300 feet of drainage pipe
  • Installing 148,000 feet of right-of-way fence and 47,000 feet of temporary fencing for livestock containment during construction
  • Adding 49 new cattleguards
  • Installing a box culvert for the Mill Creek alignment under “live water” conditions
  • Installing a new sanitary water line to the Mill Creek housing development
  • Adding roadway lighting at critical intersections.

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