Navajo Transportation Director Receives Prestigious White House Award
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Navajo Nation Division of Transportation Director Paulson Chaco was one of 11 leaders honored at the White House yesterday as a Champion of Change. Chaco was recognized for his department’s actions to improve safety on U.S. Highway 491, which runs through the eastern part of the Navajo Nation. The U.S. Department of Transportation nominated Chaco for the award.
“The collaboration between the Navajo Nation and the State of New Mexico made this project a reality. Providing safe passable roads is a major concern to the Navajo Nation and we look forward to completing this important project,” Chaco said.
In 2010, the Navajo Nation secured $31 million from a U.S. Department of Transportation grant—a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, stimulus grant to improve safety on U.S. Highway 491 in New Mexico by expanding its width in constructing two new lanes over a corridor length of approximately 69 miles. The Navajo Nation provided $8 million to the project.
The first 40 miles of U.S. Highway 491 south from Shiprock, New Mexico is now a four-lane highway. The road has a history of traffic accidents and safety problems, which the project will address by providing two additional lanes and separating north- and southbound traffic with a 46-foot median, among other improvements. Statistics indicate the fatality rate at the north portion of the corridor is about 3.6 times the state average, and at the south portion, about 2.2 times the average state rate.
The project continues to involve the Navajo Nation and the State of New Mexico. The transportation partners have applied for additional TIGER funds to complete the project.
“These American heroes are creating jobs today by investing in tomorrow — putting men and women back to work rebuilding America’s infrastructure,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The Champion of Change program was created as part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative. Each week, a different issue is highlighted and groups of Champions, ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community activists, are recognized for the work they are doing to better their communities.
(Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood addresss Champions of Change award recipients at the White House. Seated second from the left is Navajo Transportation Director Paulson Chaco. Photo courtesy the White House)