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Partnering and Leveraging

IV: From Indian Country

This section offers examples of partnerships and leveraging from Indian Country. It describes tribe-State partnerships in Minnesota and Maine, and a Region-tribe partnership in California.

Tribe-State Partnership: Upper Sioux Community and Minnesota Department of Transportation

In October 2011, the resurfacing of State Highway 67 (SH67) in Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota was completed. It marked an end to the $2.3 million project and the beginning of a strengthened relationship between its partners. The observations of those who participated in the partnership are noteworthy and provided in this overview.

A photo shows an orange sign that reads “Project Funding by: Upper Sioux Community in Partnership with MnDOT.”

The sign informs motorists the roadway project is a partnership between the Upper Sioux Community and Mn/DOT. Photo by Joel Wenz

The tribe-State partnership began with a request from the Upper Sioux Community (USC) to meet with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) on improvements to SH67, which runs through the reservation. At the meeting, which was held on the reservation, tribal leadership expressed interest in leveraging its Federal transportation funds to assist with the resurfacing of SH67.

According the MnDOT District 8 Engineer Jon Huseby:

What they chose to do was to invest some of their Federal funds into a project that would help their community as well as really help south west Minnesota. Without this partnership money, the project would not have occurred in 2011. We did have a project scheduled for 2014 but it was a small preservation project; what we call a thin overlay. This project not only advanced that project by three years but it was also a much better and more substantial improvement.”

According to the Chairman of the Upper Sioux Community, Kevin Jensvold:

Sometimes people or nations or States or governments will do things because it is the right thing to do and makes sense. In this instance, it made sense for the Upper Sioux Community to approach the State [and] address and identify deficiency in the road that runs through tribal lands. That’s how we came to formulate the plan, how we came to approach the State and how ultimately together we can undertake a project that benefits all the parties involved.

According to the Minnesota Commissioner of Transportation Tom Sorel:

Highway 67 is really a shining example of how we can work together in a government-to-government way with all tribal nations in our State. I really commend the tribal leaders….for coming forward and really extending this gift and working together with us to build a project that makes sense for everybody. I also think it’s important to acknowledge that it’s not just the tribal leaders and MnDOT leaders that came together but people at the staff level…worked together in a collaborative way and really developed a sense of trust.

In designing the partnership, the roles of each party were:

The partnership also agreed on an environmentally responsible project design. It chose a cold in-place recycle process that removed the top inches of pavement, pulverized and added oil to the underlying pavement structure and applied a new bituminous surface on top. Cold in-place recycling extends roadway life and significantly reduces the number of resurfacings, resulting in fewer disruptions to the tribal community over time.

MnDOT has released a brief nine minute video on the State Highway 67 partnership, featuring the commentary above and other observations from the Upper Sioux Community, MnDOT and State leadership. The video may be accessed at:

Tribe-State Partnership: Passamaquoddy Tribe and Maine Department of Transportation.

The Passamaquoddy Tribe logo shows a river lined by two banks with trees on either side, and has two feathers crossing each other in the middle of the logo with the words “Indian Township Tribal Government: Passamaquoddy” at the top.

The Passamaquoddy Tribe is located in Indian Township and Pleasant Point, Maine. The Indian Township Tribal Government has and is partnering with the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) to leverage State funds with IRR funds for three projects:

1.The Milford Street Bridge Replacement project in Grand Lake Stream was completed in the fall of 2010. The Passamaquoddy Tribe contributed over half the funds for this $1.7 million project.

2.The Grand Lake Stream Road Resurfacing project in Grand Lake Stream and Indian Township was completed in fall 2011. The project cost $2.5 million with the tribe contributing $950,000.

A photo shows a bridge passing over a small stream with guard rails along either side.

The Princeton - Passamaquoddy Bridge Replacement project on US Route 1 on the Indian Township - Princeton Town Line is to be completed in 2012. The project will cost $3 million with the tribe contributing $950,000.

The Passamaquoddy Tribal Planner Bob Tyler, the Tribal Engineer Dana Altvater, and the MaineDOT Tribal Liaison Nate Howard agree there are benefits to partnering and leveraging resources. The greatest benefit is that projects are completed sooner than if only one partner is involved.

In three years, MaineDOT and the Passamaquoddy Tribe have invested over $7 million in highway and bridge infrastructure in rural Washington County. The benefits to the tribe and the State are summarized here.

A photo shows a highway infrastructure project mid-construction with a large crane in the background.

Tribal Benefits

State DOT Benefits

Tribal-State Relations

“The tribe was pleased to be able to assist in the repair of the bridge”

Bob Tyler, Passamaquoddy Tribal Planner

The relationship between the tribe and MaineDOT has developed in the last few years, thanks in part to a State-appointed Tribal Liaison on the DOT staff. The liaison, Nate Howard, works closely with the Passamaquoddy Tribe planner and engineer to advance transportation projects. Before the liaison position was created, the tribe tried to work with the State but had difficulty being heard. For example, in order to leverage tribal funds on State roads, the roads must be listed on the IRR Inventory. Previously, MaineDOT did not fully understand what it would mean for the agency if the roads were listed (nothing changes for the State DOT), nor why the tribe would want to list the roadway. Following the 2010 and 2011 executive orders, there was renewed focus on building State-tribal relationships. MaineDOT now understands the benefits of listing certain State roads on the IRR Inventory.

The tribe is the first in Maine to leverage its IRR funds with State funds. MaineDOT is looking to advance similar projects with the three other tribes located in the State. The Partnership Memorandum of Agreement between the Passamaquoddy Tribe and MaineDOT is provided in Appendix B. The Executive Orders issued by the State on government-to-government relationships and communications with tribes may be accessed at:

Region-Tribe Partnership:Reservation Transportation Authority and San Diego Association of Governments

The Reservation Transportation Authority (RTA) logo

The Reservation Transportation Authority (RTA) is a consortium of the federally recognized tribes in San Diego and Riverside counties in southern California. Founded in 1998, the RTA provides transportation education, planning, and program administration for tribal government members. By bringing the region’s tribes together, the RTA provides a stronger voice for tribal transportation needs. The RTA constructs roads on members’ reservations; obtains transportation funding from local, State and Federal sources; and acts as an advocate for tribal transportation policy issues.

The RTA has partnered with Federal, State, and regional agencies on a variety of projects. One of these agencies is the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), which is the MPO for the San Diego region.

Figure 3. RTA Intertribal Service Area

A map of the Reservation Transportation Authority Intertribal Service Area. The map shows San Diego County and portions of Riverside County, California with major roadways and shaded terrain. Tribal lands are colored and labeled with the name of the tribe on that reservation. The lands are located inland, dispersed from the Mexico border up the center of San Diego County and Riverside County.

Tribal Transit Feasibility Study

In 2006 and 2007, SANDAG partnered with the RTA and the two regional transit providers to develop a Tribal Transit Feasibility Study. The study was funded through a grant SANDAG received from the California Department of Transportation. SANDAG’s Interagency Technical Working Group on Tribal Transportation Issues served as the advisory committee for the project. The working group discusses and coordinates transportation issues of mutual concern for tribes and the regional planning agencies, including RTA, SANDAG, the County of San Diego, the region’s transit agencies, and the State DOT.

The cover of the Tribal Transit Feasibility Study, Final Report – January 25, 2008. Shows the logos for San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), IBI Group, and the Reservation Transportation Authority (RTA). Eight pictures are arranged in a rectangle in the center. From upper left, going clockwise, they show: a historic route marker for California/US 80; a straight stretch of roadway with short trees on a hillside next to it; a wooden bus shelter with exposed beams near a parking lot; an enclosed metal bus shelter with a bike rack next to it; a blue bus stop sign on the shoulder of a road; a blue metal enclosed bus shelter with a blue bus stop sign on the sidewalk of a more urban street; a shuttle bus pulling up on a rainy street to two people standing near a curb; and a wooden enclosed bus stop with a field stone base alongside a road.

The purpose of the grant was study the feasibility of implementing transit service in one or two key corridors between reservations and other cities or small towns in the region. The study provides the information needed to leverage additional funding for transit service for the tribal governments in San Diego County.

The study examined the current tribal demographics, existing transit service, transportation needs, and options for addressing those needs.The identified issues included the need for increased service frequency and the need for better access to medical services. The study recommended three options for implementation:

The study also identified funding opportunities, including the FTA Tribal Transit Program and human service transportation grants through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Implementing the Study

RTA used the Tribal Transit Feasibility Study to obtain FTA Tribal Transit grant funding of $1.6 million for 2007-2010. The RTA also successfully applied for $1.1 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) funding for transit infrastructure improvements, including a new bus stop at a park-and-ride facility recommended in the Tribal Transit Feasibility Study. As SANDAG’s tribal liaison noted:

“This was a small investment on the front end that has blossomed into the RTA being able to access funds that it could not access before the study.”

While FTA Tribal Transit funds are accessible to all tribes, the RTA did not have the technical studies to support their funding requests prior to this project. This study filled that gap. The Working Group has been discussing options for additional funding to fully implement the plan because the FTA grants will not be enough. The most recent SANDAG regional transportation plan, completed in 2011, includes recommendations to support tribal transit. One of the recommendations is to collaborate on funding opportunities to implement the feasibility study.

Updated: 1/26/2017
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